Choosing the best CRM, or Customer Relationship Management system, for your small business can seem like a big decision, especially if it’s your first one.
With so many CRMs on the market, you might be wondering which one is best for your small business, the features you need, and how much should you plan to pay for a CRM system as a small business, freelancer or startup.
Here's everything you need to know about CRM for small businesses to find the best solution for you.
- The benefits of CRM for small businesses
- How to know if your small businesses needs a CRM
- Key characteristics of a good CRM
- 10 best CRMs for small businesses
- Honorable mentions of other CRMs
- Common questions about CRM for small businesses
- Next steps after choosing your CRM
- Integrating your CRM with other apps
The benefits of CRM for small businesses
A CRM system, or just CRM, is short for customer relationship management. It's software that stores key information and contact data about your customers and leads, as well as tracking interactions with prospects and customers.
With a well-chosen CRM at the core of your business, you are in the best position to organize your sales pipeline, deliver top-quality customer service and scale your business.
The main benefits of adopting a CRM system for your small business include:
- Storing all prospect and customer data in one place (such as name, email, phone number and other identifying information);
- Monitoring all touchpoints with contacts (including emails, calls, voicemails, meetings and live chat);
- Tracking, automating and reporting on movement through your pipelines, from new lead to client and beyond.
How to know if your small businesses needs a CRM
Most businesses need a CRM because most businesses hold data about their customers. No matter your business type, a CRM will also help your business if you're facing these challenges:
- You're losing track of clients and leads, messages are coming to you via email and phone, and you can't keep up.
- Your prospects and customers communicate with different members of your team without consistent data records, resulting in extra work for your team and frustrating customers by asking the same questions over again.
- You don't have up-to-date information about your customers and leads.
- You lack one centralized online place for storing data.
- You’re using a huge .xls file or spreadsheet to bundle all information, which may have worked well in the past. But as you scale, you’ve reached a breaking point and the sheet is too complex, full of errors, corrupt, not updated, and requires regular backups.
- You can't take a holiday or outsource work because everything is inside your own head.
CRMs are especially useful if you're a B2B company tracking leads across sales cycles and through upgrade paths, or you're a considered-purchase B2C company, like a jeweler, travel agent or realtor.
Key characteristics of a good CRM
What do the best CRMs for small businesses have in common? Before choosing your platform, make sure that:
- It suits your price point and you're not paying for features you don't need.
- It's user-friendly and your team can understand how it works without extensive training.
- It integrates with your other tools. Think about your email service provider, accounting tools, calling provider, live chat and other services your business relies on. PieSync’s two-way contact sync also provides a more extensive sync of your contact data between all your key apps.
- It runs in the cloud, rather than on an expensive, outdated, on-premise, hardware-limited server.
- The company offers a free trial and demo for you to get a good look around the software and ask questions.
- You can easily migrate your existing customer data into it.
You can also look out for these CRM features that many small businesses benefit from:
- Visual overview of the sales process – so you can immediately get an overview of your pipeline.
- Contact & company insights – for automated info about contacts and companies in your CRM.
- Gmail & Outlook integration – sync your emails to your CRM and track opens/reads. You can also sync contacts between your inbox and CRM with PieSync.
- Deals & pipelines – track the progress of deals from new lead to won and beyond.
- Contact activity – see how your contacts have interacted with your business.
- Conversations inbox – route all conversations via your team email or live chat into one inbox.
- Calling – track your calls made within the CRM or via a VoIP integration.
- Meetings – track your meetings and add summary notes to refer to later.
- Reporting dashboard – monitor your progress against key metrics.
10 best CRMs for small businesses
Here's our selection of some of the best CRMs for small businesses in 2020, including our top picks for sales teams, agencies, consulting firms and more.
HubSpot CRM is ideal for freelancers and small businesses who want the market-leading free CRM with plenty of scope to scale their sales, marketing and service.
Pricing: FREE, lets you store as many as 1,000,000 contacts and companies. But if you ever need access to their Sales, Marketing, Service or CMS Hubs, other fees apply.
Pros: Not only is the core CRM free, it's incredibly easy to add your existing contacts and new ones via HubSpot's website forms and the Meetings calendar booking tool. New contacts are immediately associated with the right company based on their email domain. Before long you'll be able to view your up-to-date sales pipeline and get on top of organization.
Cons: Costs increase as you grow. If you want access to the Sales, Marketing or Service Hubs, each come at $40/month paid annually per user for Starter plans. The next level up is $800/month for Professional Marketing plans, and $400/month for Professional Sales and Service plans. The CMS Hub is priced at $300/month for the Professional plan and $900/month for the Enterprise plan.
Verdict on HubSpot free CRM: It's the perfect CRM for small businesses and freelancers. You also have room to grow with plan upgrades, if you’re willing to pay more than some other solutions.
Salesforce is the most popular CRM in the world, but not always a good fit for small businesses because of the complexity and costs of its best features.
Pricing: Salesforce Essentials is $25 user/month (billed annually, otherwise $30 monthly) for up to 10 users. This is a bare-bones Salesforce with only core functionality, however, and it lacks API access to connect to other apps that fill the gaps. A good solution to this is connecting your aps via PieSync.
Pros: Salesforce is a multipurpose CRM and it's built with scaling in mind. The main advantage? It’s extremely customizable. You can also set up completely automated processes to take contacts from lead, to deal won, to invoiced, onboarded, and upsold.
The Salesforce Essentials plan makes the CRM more accessible than ever for small businesses, but you’ll need to upgrade to access most of the handy features to automate processes. You can check Sales Cloud pricing here, although there are many other Clouds and features to look at beyond that, including Marketing and Service.
Einstein, its built-in artificial intelligence to help you work more intelligently, is an impressive feature at an extra $75/user/month (billed annually).
Cons: Salesforce will be too robust for most small businesses, especially if they aren't planning to scale up any time soon. If you want all the advantages of Salesforce, you’ll need a higher plan and an expert to onboard you.
Verdict on Salesforce: It's the ideal CRM for companies that want to be ready to scale, but unnecessarily complex for many smaller businesses.
Pipedrive is one of the strongest sales-focused CRMs on the market to organize your pipeline.
Pricing: Pipedrive's Essential plan starts at $15/month paid monthly. If you want access to Pipedrive's top email features, you can opt for the Advance plan for $24.90/month. To add calling options and multiple reporting options, check out their Professional plan for $49.09/month. And if you want even more customization and a dedicated account manager, they offer an Enterprise plan for $99/month. These are the prices per user per month, and you can save up to 17% paying annually. A 14-day free trial is also available.
Pros: Pipedrive has an almost seamless integration with Gmail, which sets it apart from other CRMs. Email conversations (both new and historical) are linked on contact and company pages, which guarantees that everyone in the team is up to speed.
It’s also a great CRM for data nerds: you can handle the numbers much like you would in Excel, get quick insights from their reporting suite, and simply export the data ranges you need.
Cons: Pipedrive lacks automation and integration compared to other large CRMs, but that can be worked around using PieSync for two-way syncing between tools.
Verdict on Pipedrive: Pipedrive calls itself “the sales CRM for small teams with big ambitions”, and with its straightforward blend of sales and process management features, it's easy to see why.
Teamleader is a Europe-based CRM with a very well-rounded solution including project management and time tracking features that agencies will love.
Pricing: Teamleader has three price plans: Go (€50/month), Move (€60/month) and Boost (€80/month). These prices include 2 users and are paid yearly, including a 15% discount off quarterly prices. Prices increase for extra users, starting at €25 per extra user for the Go plan. There's a 14-day free trial to give it a try before you buy.
Pros: Teamleader is one of the most complete CRM solutions on the market. It boasts great project management functionality and support tickets, allowing users to go beyond sales to manage customer support and onboarding. With time tracking and invoicing, it’s also a great CRM for freelancers, agencies and consultants who work on the clock.
To do even more with Teamleader, the CRM has plenty of integrations in their app marketplace, which they’ve grown by making it more accessible for developers to build new integrations. Another advantage? Super clean user experience.
Cons: Teamleader is competitively priced for its CRM, but gets pricey if you want to add extra users. They also have a clear focus on Europe, which might not be ideal for US-based small businesses.
Verdict on Teamleader: A good all-round CRM with project management and time tracking features. If you're looking for a user-friendly one-stop-shop for your SME or agency, check out their 14-day trial.
Salesflare is a simple and popular CRM for sales teams in B2B businesses.
Pricing: Salesflare is blessed with simple pricing: it's $30 per user/month billed annually, or $35 billed monthly, for all features and unlimited access. You can get started with a 14-day free trial.
Pros: Salesflare has a tribe of fans on Capterra and averages a 4.7/5 rating. Users love their customer support, simple pricing model, and automation to track calls, pick up email conversations and alert you when deals become inactive. Their feature set is also evolving fast, so their users have very few complaints.
Cons: With a clear focus on sales, Salesflare isn’t designed to fill marketing needs such as complex email sequences. But nor do they need to: their wealth of integrations make it easy to connect Salesflare to your marketing automation tool and keep your contacts in sync while letting your CRM do its real job.
Verdict on Salesflare: Salesflare describes itself as a simple CRM for small businesses selling B2B. We’d add that it’s a fast-moving tool with top-quality support. If you’re a small B2B business in need of a strong but simple CRM, get started with their free trial and see how Salesflare suits your needs.
6. Less Annoying CRM
Less Annoying CRM is the simple CRM choice for small businesses that want something refreshingly straightforward with no fluffy features.
Pricing: Less Annoying CRM also has simple pricing: $15 per user/month, with a 30-day free trial and "no complicated pricing tiers, no hidden fees, and no contracts". That's one reason why they're less annoying, and their users love them for it.
Pros: Less Annoying CRM is consistently ranked #1 for small businesses and for its customer service on G2, and it's designed specifically with smaller teams and client bases in mind. We like their tongue-in-cheek take on being the "Less Annoying" CRM, and they also pride themselves on no shady sales tactics and superb customer service.
Cons: Less Annoying CRM has certain workflows that can be too restrictive for some teams. It’s simpler than some of the other CRMs out there, but that can also be an advantage: on their homepage, they even say they don’t want their users paying for “a million features” they don't want.
Verdict on Less Annoying CRM: A solid choice for small businesses, with a month-long trial period to properly test out the feature set.
7. Capsule CRM
Capsule CRM has beautiful UX and design that's simple for any small business to use, especially consultants and consulting firms.
Pricing: FREE for up to 2 users (and only 250 contacts), or $18 per user/month for the Professional plan. There's a 30-day free trial.
Pros: Capsule prides itself on being "the smart simple online CRM" – and it shows. The CRM has beautifully clean and simple user experience, as well as a strong feature set. Capsule makes it easy to tag contacts and log email conversations via a simple BCC. They have a clear focus on the core CRM features that matter to small businesses.
Cons: Lacks marketing functionality and some lead nurturing features, so this CRM is likely to require more integrations with other tools. You can sync Capsule CRM with your marketing tools and other apps in your software stack via PieSync to achieve this.
Verdict on Capsule: Capsule is a great CRM for small business sales teams that value simplicity, good user-experience and clean design.
Nimble is a great CRM for small businesses that focus on social media.
Pricing: $19 per user/month paid annually or $25 paid monthly for access to all of Nimble's features. There's a 14-day free trial.
Pros: With their own social listening tool, Nimble pulls in handy social data from your prospects' Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. It also integrates well with your email inbox, showing social information for anyone you're emailing, plus details on who else in your company has emailed them and associated deals.
Cons: Nimble works best for relationship-based businesses, such as VCs and consultancy firms, instead of those selling products or services.
Verdict on Nimble: It's one of the cheaper CRMs out there, and it's a solid choice for small businesses that use social media for relationship building.
9. Copper(previously Prosperworks)
Copper is the ideal CRM for small businesses that love G Suite.
Pricing: $19 per user/month (paid annually) for up to 3 users on their Basic plan, otherwise $24/month paid monthly. 14-day free trial.
Pros: Copper is designed for heavy Google users, with G Suite apps in mind at every turn. There's no manual data entry required and a big focus on increased productivity. Copper is another very straightforward CRM, which makes it a strong choice for smaller businesses.
Cons: If you don't use Google Apps like Docs, Calendar and Gmail a lot in your business, Copper would be a strange choice of CRM. A downside is that they only sync one-way from Copper to Google Apps. However, the two-way contact sync between PieSync and Copper solves this.
Verdict on Copper: If you use Google Apps a lot, test-drive the CRM for 14-days to see how much it increases your productivity.
10. Zoho CRM
Zoho CRM is a budget-friendly CRM for small businesses that's part of the Zoho product family.
Pricing: Free edition for up to 3 users. Otherwise, $12 per user/month (billed annually) or $18 per user/month paid monthly. 15-day free trial.
Pros: Zoho CRM has been around for a long time, and is completed by Zoho's other tools, including their email marketing and helpdesk services. It has a large user base and it's hard to complain about the feature set.
Cons: While there are a lot of apps in the Zoho suite, the data is not interlinked, so your best bet may be to use the CRM and rely on integrations with more powerful third-party apps. The interface is also more outdated than other CRMs on this list.
Verdict on Zoho CRM: Zoho isn't the most intuitive nor beautifully designed CRM, but it's simple and effective.
Honorable mentions of other CRMs
OnePageCRM: This CRM is designed with action in mind and to "convert the complexity of CRM into a to-do list". Sign up for their 21-day trial if you want to try a simple, action-based approach to customer relationship management.
Agile CRM: Offering sales enablement, marketing automation and customer service, Agile CRM ticks a lot of boxes. It's free for up to 10 users and 50,000 contacts, but you miss out on some useful features like call recording and marketing automation without a paid plan.
Insightly: It's intuitive, good for project management (including features for task management and tracking), and is consistently rated highly by small businesses. Insightly falls slightly behind when it comes to reporting, however. At $29 per user/month (billed annually), it's also more expensive than many on this list.
Zendesk Sell (previously Base CRM): Zendesk Sell was launched in late 2018. It's designed to enhance productivity, processes and pipeline visibility for sales teams and builds on Base CRM's already strong reputation for small businesses. It's $19 per user/month billed annually, or $25 billed monthly.
Highrise: You might have heard of Highrise CRM (owned by parent company Basecamp), but as of August 2018 they decided not to accept any new users or further develop the platform. If you’re still looking for a new tool to replace Highrise, Pipedrive or Capsule might suit your business.
Keap (previously Infusionsoft): Keap is a great choice if you want to cover marketing automation as well as customer relationship management. Keap Grow starts at $79/month with more features available under Keap Pro and Infusionsoft tiers. You can get your first month free.
GreenRope: According to G2, its customers love it! GreenRope combines solutions for sales, marketing and operations. This complete CRM offers marketing automation options, sales pipeline management, and a toolbox with features for operations people. The price depends on the number of contacts you add, starting at $150/month. You can also ask for a free trial and a live demo.
Xero: While Xero isn’t a CRM, some small businesses use it as one. The accounting software manages your invoicing, inventory and expenses, but also offers a clean view of your contacts and relationship history. You can even integrate your email to see all contacts in Xero and create smart lists for targeting email campaigns. It's no surprise Xero can be a simple CRM for small businesses with simpler requirements (freelancers, construction, retail). For most B2B SMEs, however, you're more likely to benefit from Xero's many integrations with actual CRMs.
Common questions about CRM for small businesses
What business size should I be before considering a CRM?
CRM systems are useful for any business with customers, no matter the size. It's easiest to get your CRM in place early before you scale up and choose a system that can grow with your business.
Do I need to pay for a CRM?
Not always! Some of the best CRM systems for small business are free, including HubSpot's CRM system. Others are priced per user, quantity of data (usually number of contacts), functionality, or a combination of the above.
Is choosing a free CRM going to be restrictive or make it harder to scale?
No, if you make sure your CRM gives you room to grow. You might find that once you start scaling you'll need to upgrade price plans – it's worth looking into the cost before you get there, as it can be a considerable step up.
Having the option to upgrade your CRM is a good thing, though: as you grow, your CRM can grow with you, and you don't have to switch providers. When chosen carefully, free CRMs can be a perfect starting point for small businesses.
Next steps after choosing your CRM
After reviewing our recommended CRMs, create a shortlist of your top contenders and make use of their free trial periods. Don't try more than a few trials at a time – it will get overwhelming very quickly!
Rather, only try CRMs that match your budget (remember to think about how many users you'll need and the total cost of the CRM now and as you grow), industry and broad feature requirements. Is built-in marketing functionality important to you? What about project management? You can then test the nitty-gritty requirements during your trial.
Integrating your CRM with other apps
Customer relationship management for small business doesn't have to be a headache, even when it comes to syncing your data across different tools.
Many businesses find that one CRM does nearly everything they want to do, but not quite everything. It might do a killer job at pipeline management, but fall short when it comes to accounting or email management.
That's ok – this is where integrations come into play. It’s far better to focus on a CRM’s core features instead of the bells and whistles, then later work with integrations to tailor it specifically to your business needs.
Integrations connect your CRM to other tools and allow you to do far more overall.
As a few examples, you might want to connect your CRM tools such as:
- Mailchimp, so you can send out newsletters.
- FreshBooks, to process your invoices.
- AirCall, so you can efficiently take and make calls in the office and on-the-go.
- Shopify, so your website becomes your storefront.
- Zendesk, so you can have organized conversations with every customer reaching out to you.
- Google Contacts and iCloud, to make sure the contact data on your CRM is accessible on your phone on the go.