The best CRMs for small businesses: pros, cons, and what you need to know

Choosing the best CRM for your small business can seem like a big decision, especially if it’s your first system. There are so many CRMs out there: which one is best for your business? What features do you need? And how much should you budget to pay for your CRM system as a small company, freelancer, or startup?

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.

Here’s everything we’ve researched so you don’t have to trawl the internet answering your questions and finding the best solution for you.

Getting the facts straight on CRMs: what you need to know

A CRM system, or just CRM, is short for customer relationship management. It’s software that tracks interactions with prospects and customers.

The main benefits of CRMs for small businesses

  1. They store your prospect and customer data (name, email, phone number and other identifying information) in one place;
  2. You can monitor all touchpoints with contacts (including emails, calls, voicemails, meetings, and sometimes live chat);
  3. You can track, automate, and report on movement through your pipelines, from new lead to client and beyond.

The types of business that benefit most from CRMs

CRMs are good for certain types of businesses, especially if you’re a B2B company tracking leads across sales cycles and through upgrade paths. Or, you might be a considered-purchase B2C company, like a jeweler, travel agent, or a realtor.

But for any business type, it’s worth considering a CRM if you’re experiencing any of these issues in your business:

  • You’re losing track of your 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 and you can’t keep up, resulting in extra work and embarrassing double communication.
  • 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 Google Sheet to bundle all information, which has 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.
  • If so, a CRM can be a good step to solving these pain points.

Choosing the CRM for you: your questions

What business size should I be before considering a CRM?

CRM systems can be useful for any business with customers, no matter what size you’re at. It’s usually easiest to get your CRM in place early, before you scale up. On that point: make sure you choose a CRM that can grow with you.

Do I need to pay for a CRM?

No! 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.

Our recommendations for finding the best CRM

Key characteristics of a good CRM

  • It suits your price point: 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 from you.
  • It integrates with your other tools. Think about your email service provider (e.g. MailChimp, Campaign Monitor), accounting tools (e.g. FreshBooks, Xero), calling provider (e.g. Aircall, RingCentral), live chat (e.g. Intercom) among other services your business relies on. If the CRM doesn’t offer an integration you need, see if PieSync’s two-way contact sync covers the connections you’re looking for.
  • 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 all of your existing business data into it.

CRM features for small businesses to look for:

- Visual overview of the sales process – so you can immediately get an overview of your pipeline

- Contact & company insights – get automated info about contacts and companies in your CRM

- Gmail & Outlook integration – sync your emails to your CRM and track opens/reads

- 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 whether made within the CRM or with another integration

- Meetings – track your meetings with contacts and add summary notes to refer to later

- Reporting dashboard – monitor your progress against key metrics

Choosing integrations for your CRM

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 & make calls in the office and on-the-go
  • Shopify, so your website becomes your storefront
  • Zendesk, so you can have organized conversations with customers reaching out to you
  • FullContact, to enrich your customer and prospect contact information.

To keep your contacts and data updated on both your CRM and the other systems you use, check out PieSync’s two-way sync.

Customer relationship management for small business doesn’t have to be a headache, even when it comes to syncing your data across different tools.

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CRMs for small businesses: pricing, pros, cons, and our verdict

Here’s our selection of some of the CRMs that are popular with small businesses in 2019:

For freelancers and very small businesses: HubSpot CRM

For SaaS startups who plan to scale: Salesforce

For consultants & consultancy firms: Capsule

For businesses who get many leads from social media: Nimble

For sales teams who want a simple and actionable to-do list: OnePageCRM

For agencies: Teamleader

Keep reading for our in-depth analysis of these CRMs and other strong contenders for small businesses.

Top 10 CRMs:

HubSpot CRM

hubspot

Pricing: FREE, lets you store as many as 1 million contacts and companies. But if you ever need access to their Sales, Marketing, or Service Hubs, other fees apply.

Pros: Not only is it free, it’s incredibly easy to add your existing contacts and accept 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 as you grow – you might want to add the Sales, Marketing or Service Hubs, which each come at $50/month per user for Starter plans alone. Not very user-friendly on mobile. HubSpot is also very focused on your online sales and not ideal for B2B offline businesses.

Verdict on HubSpot free CRM: It’s the perfect CRM for very small businesses and freelancers. You also have room to grow with plan upgrades, if you’re willing to pay more than other solutions.

Website: hubspot.com

Apps to integrate with HubSpot

Salesforce

salesforce

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. Start their 14-day free trial and see if it ticks the boxes you need.

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. Einstein, its built-in artificial intelligence to help you work more intelligently, is an impressive feature but an extra $75/user/month (billed annually).

Cons: Salesforce can be too robust for 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.

Website: salesforce.com

Apps to integrate with Salesforce

Pipedrive

pipedrive

Pricing: $12 per user/month (billed annually) for their Silver plan, or $15/month billed monthly. 14-day free trial.

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.

Website: pipedrive.com

Apps to integrate with Pipedrive

Teamleader

teamleader

Pricing: $25 month (billed annually) for 2 users, or $30/month paid quarterly. Prices increase for extra users and access to invoicing, projects, and support tickets. 14-day free trial.

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 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 invoicing, projects, and support ticket features added on. Paying per feature does keep the costs down for simple CRM users, though. 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.

Website: teamleader.eu

Apps to integrate with Teamleader

Salesflare

salesflare

Pricing: $30 per user/month billed annually, or $35 billed monthly, for all features and unlimited access. Salesflare also has an early-stage program for new startups on a budget. Get started with a 14-day free trial.

Pros: Salesflare has a tribe of fans on Capterra and averages a 4.5/5 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.

Website: salesflare.com

Apps to integrate with Salesflare

Less Annoying CRM

lacrm

Pricing: $10 per user/month, with a 30-day free trial.

Pros: Less Annoying CRM was ranked #1 for small businesses (as well as customer service) by G2 Crowd, 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 may work for some, but can be too restrictive for others. 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.

Website: lessannoyingcrm.com

Apps to integrate with Less Annoying CRM

Capsule CRM

capsule

Pricing: FREE for up to 2 users (and only 250 contacts), or $18 per user/month for the Professional plan. 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 automation and lead nurturing features, so this CRM is likely to require more integrations with other tools.

Verdict on Capsule: Capsule is a great CRM for small businesses that value simplicity, good user-experience, and clean design.

Website: capsulecrm.com

Apps to integrate with Capsule

Nimble

nimble

Pricing: $9 per user/month (paid annually) or $12 per user/month paid monthly for Nimble’s Contact plan. 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 is very much for relationship-based businesses, such as VCs and consultancy firms, instead of those selling products or services. Their social listening tool can be less relevant for companies that are less relationship-focused.

Verdict on Nimble: It’s one of the cheaper CRMs out there, and it’s a solid choice for small businesses who use social media for relationship building. If that doesn’t apply to your small business, check out others on this list.

Website: nimble.com

Apps to integrate with Nimble

Copper (previously Prosperworks)

copper

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. Like Pipedrive, Copper is a 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.

Website: copper.com

Apps to integrate with Copper

Zoho CRM

zoho

Pricing: Free edition for 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 help desk 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.

Verdict on Zoho CRM: Zoho isn’t the most intuitive CRM, nor could it be described beautifully-designed. But while it’s very clunky, it does everything a CRM should do on paper.

Website: zoho.com/crm

Apps to integrate with Zoho CRM

Honorable mentions:

OnePageCRM: OnePageCRM is designed with action in mind and “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 1,000 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 most of this list.

Zendesk Sell (previously Base CRM): Like Sunshine, 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 per user/monthly 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.

Infusionsoft (and Keap): Infusionsoft is a great choice if you want to cover marketing automation as well as customer relationship management. It’s one of the more expensive CRMs out there, but with their new “Infusionsoft by Keap” they seem to be gearing more towards smaller businesses. Keap lists its pricing as $99 for the first user/month, with additional users at $29/month. With their rebranding transition, now might not be the best time to switch over though.

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.

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 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 per CRM), industry, and broad feature requirements. Is marketing automation important to you? What about project management? You can then test the nitty-gritty requirements during your trial.

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To let your CRM have the most impact on your business performance, download our checklist for how to optimize and get the most results from your CRM

About Lucy Fuggle

Lucy Fuggle writes for PieSync, the two-way contact sync tool for hundreds of apps. She also works with her clients to make their brand matter with a content-rich marketing strategy.