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Best CRM Software of 2021

By
Simone Johnson
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Oct 12, 2021

We've examined the best customer relationship management (CRM) services for small businesses. Check out our reviews to find the right program for you.
Best for Integrated Project Management
Robust project management tools
Gantt chart and Kanban boards
Real-time workload tracking
Best for Collaboration
Centralized document repository
Pipeline change notifications
Smart lists and filters
Best Sales Pipeline Tools
Visual sales pipelines
24/7 chat and email support
Built-in artificial intelligence
Best for Integrated Calling
Built-in phone system
Easy phone number porting
Extensive calling features
Best Ease of Use
Easy setup and use
Data migration assistance
Gmail and Outlook sync
We've examined the best customer relationship management (CRM) services for small businesses. Check out our reviews to find the right program for you.


  • Businesses use customer relationship management (CRM) software to engage and build connections with leads and clients.
  • CRMs can be hosted in the cloud or on-premises.
  • CRMs help companies, especially their sales teams, manage their customers' data.
  • This article is for small business owners interested in learning about the best CRMs and what to look for when choosing one.

When choosing the right CRM for your business, you have multiple factors to consider, such as how much it costs and whether it has all of the features and tools your company needs. Since there are so many options on the market, we've researched and analyzed more than 60 systems to determine the ones we think are best for various business needs. We arrived at our best picks after looking at a number of factors, including how much each CRM costs, how simple it is to use, and how well it integrates with other popular business applications. Continue reading to learn more about our recommendations, as well as important things to consider when you choose your CRM software.

Did you know?Did you know? Cloud hosting is best for businesses that don't want to manage the technical aspects of a CRM, and on-premises hosting is right for companies that want the most control over their CRM and its data.


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Our Reviews

monday.com: Best CRM Software for Integrated Project Management

Monday.com is a cost-saving solution for businesses that manage follow-up projects after a sale is closed.
It's a great choice for both Agile and Waterfall project environments.
The entry-level service plan is limited to one dashboard and one Kanban view.

Small business owners know the best way to reach their goals is with a solid road map. monday.com's blend of project management and CRM tools keeps you on track so you can focus on your customers, not your software. Its interface has the familiar feel of a spreadsheet but brings far more functionality to the table. You can keep the information you need most at your fingertips with custom dashboards, or do a deep dive into your workload with eight data visualization options, including Gantt charts and Kanban boards.

The software easily adapts to various project methodologies, from sprints to Agile to Waterfall planning, accommodating the workflows you already have in place. monday.com tracks workloads in real time, so you'll always know where to allocate resources before something slips through the cracks.

September 2021: If you're looking for a software with integrated collaboration features, you'll be happy to know that monday.com just launched workdocs. The recent addition allows monday.com users to collaborate on documents via chat tools, dashboards, charts and boards. Workdocs automatically updates in real-time, keeping your team up to date with each project.

monday.com's project management features complement its customer relationship management capabilities with lead capture and tracking, marketing outreach, and sales pipeline management tools. You can build your workflows and processes from scratch, or choose from its CRM and sales templates to be up and running in minutes. monday.com is an affordable way for small business owners to manage customer information and team workflows simultaneously on a single easy-to-use platform.

Read monday.com Review

Zendesk Sell: Best CRM Software for Collaboration

This CRM is ideal for small businesses that provide a high level of customer support with their product or service.
Collaboration tools keep remote and onsite workers on the same page, regardless of location.
Its user interface is somewhat clunky to navigate.

Sales strategies work best when everyone is on the same page, and Zendesk Sell is the right tool to maximize collaboration across departments. If your customer experience strategy extends beyond the sales team, you need a CRM solution that's up to the job. Commonly used across sales, marketing, and support teams, Zendesk Sell centralizes data from multiple customer touchpoints to avoid duplication of efforts or embarrassing miscommunications.

Zendesk Sell's entry-level plan is a good choice for very small businesses and solo entrepreneurs. It includes core CRM features like a customizable sales pipeline, basic reports and a team document repository. As an admin, you can assign individual team members to pipeline deals that notify employees outside the sales team of any changes or action items.

Meanwhile, smart lists can help your sales teams segment and filter leads, and email-tracking tools allow your marketing team to monitor customer engagement. Native integration with Zendesk Support keeps your support team in the loop throughout the customer journey as well.

Zendesk Sell's upper-level plans bring even more to the table with upgraded document storage space, sales forecasting and advanced call analytics. Bulk emailing and unlimited email templates help generate effective marketing emails, and role-based permissions give you and your other admins granular control over who can access data within the CRM. 

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PipeDrive: Best CRM Software with Sales Pipeline Tools

Pipedrive keeps busy sales professionals on track with at-a-glance pipeline information.
It sets up in minutes; no technical skills are necessary.
Team management and goal-setting tools are only available with the upper-tier plans.

All CRMs capture lead and sales information, but Pipedrive's unique visual sales pipeline sets it apart from similar platforms. You get a complete overview of each deal's exact stage and can use the drag-and-drop interface to easily perform mission-critical tasks like adding contacts or moving deals between stages. Pipedrive even collects leads from your chatbot and web form interactions, feeding them directly into the pipeline where they won't be overlooked. Customizable pipelines and fields let you tap into existing workflow systems or create new ones.

Pipedrive's features are designed to enhance sales performance, including reporting tools, workflow automation and communication tracking. The integrated artificial intelligence tool analyzes your past business performance to recommend ways to improve your sales efforts and suggest tasks that will provide the maximum benefit at the moment.

You can use the built-in automation feature to set activity notifications and the full-featured mobile app to stay on top of tasks no matter where you are. Every feature works in tandem with the visual pipeline to keep the customer front and center, all the way to deal completion and beyond. Pipedrive is very easy to use, but in case you do run into a snag, all service plans include 24/7 support by live chat and email.

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Freshworks CRM: Best CRM Software for Integrated Calling

Freshworks offers AI features for businesses to conduct dynamic lead scoring to inform which prospects are most likely to buy.
Excellent communication tools help Freshworks stand out from the crowd.
The pricing plans have user limits, which can complicate budgeting and scalability.

Freshworks is a standout solution for sales professionals who make and receive many calls and need CRM software to capture the data those calls generate. You can easily tie your existing phone number to the CRM platform, or buy a new local or toll-free number from over 90 countries with a single click. Mobile and vanity phone numbers are also available.

Built-in phone options include call recording, call transfer, conference calling, and a widget that allows you to make calls right from Freshworks' sales page. You can configure agent extensions for quick call routing and set custom ringtones that callers will hear before the phone is answered to enhance the customer experience. Customized greetings and phone-tree messages round out the personalization and branding options that make interacting with your company a pleasant experience for your customers.

Freshworks supports sales calls and all other customer touchpoints with a comprehensive feature set that includes deal and account management, list segmentation, email sync, and website visitor activity tracking. Its artificial intelligence tool, Freddy AI, rounds out the package with predictive contact scoring, deal insights and smart chatbots. Freshworks' CRM plans are available at several price points, including sales-only and marketing-only tiers, so you only pay for the features you need.

Read Freshworks CRM Review

Keap CRM: Best CRM Software for Ease of Use

Keap is a great choice for solopreneurs and small businesses that don't need a lot of bells and whistles with their CRM.
Keap's combination of sales and marketing tools keeps all your customer activity data and outreach efforts in a single location.
All plans require a $500 onboarding fee.

Keap is a great solution for busy small business owners looking for a turnkey CRM that's easy to set up and maintain. Its migration team will help you move your company's existing data from many popular CRMs into Keap for free. Its fee-based onboarding service includes one-on-one coaching and other training materials to get you up and running in no time. Live chat support and an extensive online library of helpful resources are available 24/7, and phone and email support are accessible on weekdays.

Keap's entry-level plan is designed with small and emerging businesses in mind. It includes the core tools companies need to support sales efforts, including lead capture, client invoicing and contact management tools. Scheduling software makes setting up meetings a breeze, and the email sync with Gmail and Outlook helps you centralize communications in a single organized system. Keap scales as your business grows, so you can easily add more functionality to the CRM as the need arises.

August 2021: To help users reach their target customers, Keap recently released a new feature: automated text message marketing. With this new capability, users can set up text message responses to automatically generate when certain events are triggered (e.g., a customer completes a web form). This feature not only reaches your customers where they are, but also takes the burden away from your team, streamlining your customer communication process.

Plan upgrades provide additional features to nurture customer relationships, such as automated sales pipelines, customizable dashboards, and reporting tools that shed valuable insight on team performance. The email templates and list segmentation tools help you message the right audience at the right time, while the built-in reporting tool tracks the campaign's effectiveness and customer engagement.

Keap can help small businesses simplify their sales process with its useful Checkout Forms tool. With select plans, users can create customizable checkout forms to collect customer payments without sending a complete invoice. This embedded feature, along with Keap's intuitive automations and synchronization, adds to the software's overall usability.

Read Keap CRM Review

Salesforce: Best CRM Software for Growing Businesses

Salesforce offers one of the most comprehensive feature lists of any CRM on the market.
This CRM is the best choice for heavily regulated businesses with highly specific needs or limitations.
The system becomes more complex and harder to use with each service plan upgrade.

Salesforce is a familiar name in the CRM space, and for good reason. It's the go-to solution for small businesses that anticipate growth and need a CRM that scales with them. Salesforce is packed with features, but its intuitive interface makes it easy to use, regardless of technical aptitude. Very small teams and solo business owners value the account and lead management tools that track deals from lead to completion, and the built-in email integration with Gmail and Outlook. Customizable reports and dashboards update in real time to ensure sales professionals always have access to the most current data, and case management routing allows team members to move or escalate issues to other groups for rapid resolution.

As your business grows, you can upgrade plans for more functionality, including automatic lead scoring and collaborative forecasting for cross-team strategizing. Tools to create product catalogs, quotes, contracts and sales orders easily accommodate an expanding customer base or product line.

June 2021: Salesforce recently released a new AI-powered research agent, Einstein Relationship Insights. This AI tool can help you identify and build new business connections. It learns from your behaviors and interests to automatically find relevant relationships for you to form, ultimately ideally increasing revenue and streamlining business growth.

All Salesforce service plans include an extensive collection of training resources and access to a user-based customer support community for crowdsourced troubleshooting and issue resolution. More support and guidance are available as an add-on component, as specialized tools like real-time Facebook Messenger chat allow you to create a personalized Salesforce experience.

Read Salesforce Review

Zoho CRM: Best CRM Software for Remote Workers

The plans are budget-friendly yet packed with core features small businesses need.
There is ample room for businesses to pivot to remote work without additional CRM costs.
The free plan's feature set is so limited that it doesn't provide a useful example of Zoho's capabilities.

Zoho CRM is a great choice for remote teams and sales professionals who spend a lot of time in the field. Its mobile app for iPhone and Android offers many of the same functions as the desktop version and updates in real time, so the most current customer data is always available.

Zoho CRM's mobile app lets you access and edit your CRM data offline, so you and your sales team won't be dependent on Wi-Fi access or your mobile provider's data plan. You can log calls, customer visits, and other activities right in the app, and attach voice notes and files for later retrieval and reference. A global search tool helps you find information quickly, while integration with your phone's caller ID and voice-activated assistant allows you to tap into your phone's native features for additional functionality.

You can also use the mobile app to plan your day, set reminders, schedule activities, send an email, or maximize the productivity of your unexpected downtime with a map integration that displays your nearby leads and prospects. Collaborate with your team members through easy-to-use feeds that support comments and mentions so you're never out of touch. The mobile app even includes Zoho CRM's AI tool, Zia, which you can use to create new client records, add notes to existing records, change a deal's status, or initiate phone calls.

Read Zoho CRM Review

Oracle NetSuite CRM: Best CRM for E-commerce

You get deep insight into customer activity whether they shop with you online or at a physical location.
The software calculates sales order shipping and taxes for you, reducing the potential for billing errors.
As part of a larger business suite rather than a stand-alone solution, this CRM is overly complex and feature-heavy for solo business owners.

Oracle Netsuite CRM is a popular solution for small e-commerce businesses that want to better understand their customers' shopping and purchasing habits. It has all the functionality you'd expect from a full-featured CRM, as well as tools that give you total visibility into your business's in-store, online and call-center interactions with customers.

Oracle NetSuite CRM's enhanced customer profiles organize information you've collected across multiple touchpoints, emphasizing transaction history to inform and predict future shopping behavior. The system records how your customers interact with your website, including items they add to a wish list or cart. It also tracks return histories, responses to marketing campaigns, and company communications. When you convert quotes to sales orders, the software automatically adds tax and shipping calculations and offers intelligent upsell recommendations at the time of purchase.

Oracle NetSuite CRM combines customer data analysis with common customer relationship management tools such as contact management, sales pipeline analytics and customer support case management. When viewed together, the accumulated data paints a full picture of your customers, from the first contact to the last sale. A built-in partner relationship management module organizes your joint marketing efforts, commission distribution, and partner sales forecasts to help you understand the health of each partner relationship as well.

Read Oracle NetSuite CRM Review

HubSpot CRM: Best CRM Software for Reporting and Metrics

The free plan is a smart choice for teams that are new to CRM and want to sample a variety of sales, marketing and service tools.
HubSpot's resource library offers an expansive list of free templates and business tools.
Service plans above the basic tier are prohibitively expensive for small businesses.

Customer relationship management software is ideal for capturing myriad sales data, but its real value lies in how companies can use the data to improve a sales team's performance and strategize business decisions. Small businesses that want the best reporting tools and performance insights in a CRM should consider HubSpot. Its forever-free plan includes more than 90 report templates that you can select and arrange on customizable dashboards.

Popular reports include deal forecasts, sales-funnel metrics, and sales-activity insights on team productivity and individual sales agents' performance. HubSpot also generates reports on chat and email conversations in the team inbox to provide data on response times, how long it takes to resolve a message, and how well messages are distributed among team members. HubSpot's paid CRM solution adds a custom report builder so you can access the exact metrics you need. Custom filters fine-tune report results even further for detailed insights on everything from your website traffic to individual deals. 

Many small businesses find HubSpot's free plan meets their needs, but the basic paid plan is also worth a look. It has several popular CRM features, including a meeting scheduler and simple automation tools. This plan limits full access to two users but still allows an unlimited number of free users to perform certain administrative tasks and view reports.

July 2021: HubSpot recently added a new Operations Hub that gives businesses the ability to connect third-party tools, sync and clean customer data, and automate business processes. With access to a variety of data customization options, businesses can improve their metric and reporting process even further.

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Quickbase: Best CRM Software for Cross-Platform Integrations

Quickbase allows you to build a CRM to your exact specifications.
It's adaptable to changing business needs, no matter how broad.
This system requires much more technical aptitude than a prebuilt CRM solution would.

Despite the large number of CRMs on the market, some small business owners find that nothing is quite the right fit. Enter Quickbase, a downloadable customer relationship management template that you can use to design a seamlessly integrated CRM.

Quickbase is a "low-code" solution, meaning most of the heavy lifting is done for you but it still requires some coding knowledge to create the finished product. Quickbase isn't the right CRM for everyone, but developers will recognize the value of a low-code app that can be ready for rollout in weeks instead of months. Tweaks and changes to the system are made in a sandbox environment, so there's often no need to take the entire CRM system offline for updates. Some components can be changed with no downtime at all.

Once live, Quickbase behaves like a traditional CRM. It includes drag-and-drop workflow automations, file attachment space, business app integration, reports and other common CRM tools. Each service plan includes access to a library with hundreds of sample apps worth browsing. Quickbase isn't as feature-rich as prebuilt solutions, but many businesses consider that an advantage. A flexible CRM gives you the option to include the features you want without paying extra for features you don't need.

Zoho CRM: Best CRM for Remote Workers

  • The plans are budget-friendly yet packed with core features small businesses need.
  • There is ample room for businesses to pivot to remote work without additional CRM costs.
  • The free plan's feature set is so limited that it doesn't provide a useful example of Zoho's capabilities.

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Sage CRM: Best CRM Software for Customer Support

Bundling sales and support tools into a single platform keeps software costs down and centralizes important customer data.
Simultaneous access to sales and service history provides a total picture of a customer's journey.
Limited product information on Sage's website forces potential customers to call a sales rep to learn about its CRM and pricing.

Providing a superior customer experience doesn't end when you close a sale. You must continue to nurture your customer relationships and respond quickly when issues arise. Sage CRM's customer service tools can help your employees provide support and monitor resolutions without leaving the CRM platform. Team collaboration features provide metrics on case histories and resolution times to help you identify service gaps, and reporting tools let you create comprehensive visual charts and reports.

Sage CRM includes a central repository to capture common issues and their solutions. You can add solutions as you go, or store reviewed and preapproved solutions in the knowledge base for consistency and faster case resolutions. Alternatively, or in tandem, you can create a web self-service portal that helps your customers resolve their own issues, reducing the burden on your support team.

A wealth of additional CRM features support the customer experience from the initial point of contact to the close of the sale. Automated workflows and lead routing ensure your salespeople interact with customers at the right time, while forecasting and reporting tools analyze everything from customer behavior to sales strategies. Sage CRM also has a collection of features to help you manage multichannel marketing campaigns and support targeted marketing efforts.  

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SugarCRM: Best Customizable CRM Software

A wide selection of add-on modules enhances the customizability of the basic CRM package.
Despite numerous customization options, SugarCRM works well right out of the box without any adjustments.
The entry-level plan requires a 10-user minimum.

The highly customizable SugarCRM is a good choice for small businesses with unique needs that require more adjustments than a traditional CRM has to offer. Several elements of the software can be changed or modified to user specifications, including the fields, modules, and page layouts – no coding experience necessary. You can also configure core SugarCRM functions such as opportunity trackers, forecast builders, and job schedulers, though those changes may require more technical experience.

SugarCRM's customization options work in tandem with its fixed core features to help your company reach maximum productivity. Reports and dashboards provide real-time insights into the sales pipeline to help you monitor your team's performance and assess business decisions on the fly. The platform also houses the complete history of a customer's journey, helping you predict outcomes accurately. SugarCRM's user-friendly quote management system includes custom PDF templates and supports multiple currencies – a plus for companies with international clients.

SugarCRM's basic tier offers most of the features and functionality a small business needs, but if you do choose to upgrade, you have several plans to choose from. The upper tiers include tools a growing business needs, like advanced workflows, cloud storage, unlimited emails, and expanded customer support options.

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Insightly: Best CRM Software Automation Tools

Insightly is a great choice for very small teams and solopreneurs without the staff to manage details of the sales process.
It offers an uncommon and highly useful relationship-linking feature that gives context on how contacts are connected.
Artificial intelligence and predictive tools are only available on the most expensive plans.

Insightly is a CRM that helps small businesses create smooth workflows out of the customer information it collects. Most customer relationship management systems do a good job of organizing data, but Insightly maximizes that data's usefulness with automated tasks and workflows to ensure busy professionals don't miss important steps in the sales process.

All of Insightly's service plans allow you to create rules for the common events that trigger the next actions in the sales process. For instance, the system can automatically create a task reminding you to make a sales call when a deal moves from prospect to qualified lead. Its top-tier plan adds the ability to create entire workflows around an event, simultaneously creating a reminder, emailing a meeting request to the lead, and adding a new record to the database. Workflows and task automation frees teams from time-consuming, repetitive tasks so they can focus on customers.

Insightly offers a variety of additional features, including integration with many popular business applications such as Slack and Microsoft 365. Automatic social profile enrichment, comprehensive communication management, and relationship-linking tools work together to create a 360-degree view of customers that helps you solidify customer relationships. Milestone and task tracking ensure your company meets client expectations and nothing falls off the radar.

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CRM Pricing

Most customer relationship management software is priced on a per-person, per-month basis. Many companies opt for annual billing to simplify the payment process and save money (most services reduce the per-month price if you pay annually rather than monthly). With that in mind, these are the general pricing tiers you can expect.

  • $10 to $15: Inexpensive CRM products are a great option for tiny businesses with modest needs, and many services only charge $10 to $15 per user per month. Affordable systems like these don't usually require much in-house tech support to implement. If you want a fast solution with minimal hassle, this price range is a great place to start. Just make sure the storage options meet your needs; low-cost CRMs usually cap the number of customer records you can store.
  • $20 to $40: For additional features and a broader range of integrations with third-party systems, a CRM in the $20-$40 range will likely meet your needs. The majority of CRM software we reviewed falls into this price range, because it's designed to meet the needs of the SMB set. As you peruse options in this price range, check for limitations on the number of supported users and storage caps that could force you to upgrade to higher-priced plans.
  • $50 to $75: CRM software that falls in the $50-$75 range per user is typically intended for enterprise use. Such systems often include options to integrate with legacy systems and allow greater customization than other CRMs. As powerful as they are, systems like these are not necessary for most small businesses.
  • $250 or more: High-end CRM systems often provide extensive training, customization and implementation services with the software. Another reason for the steep cost of these solutions is that they are not cloud services; instead, they can be hosted locally, which is a boon for organizations with unique security needs.

Most CRM services offer free trial periods for new customers, so you can test-drive the system of your choice without the risk of sinking money into a product that ultimately doesn't work for you. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Depending on the complexity of your needs, CRM software, which is typically priced on a monthly per-person basis, can cost anywhere from $10 to more than $250 per month.

CRM Features

When you seek a CRM program, it's important to know what you need. Here are common features you'll find in CRM systems so you can decide which ones would best serve your business.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation is the basis of how your system moves and the automatic actions within the software. For example, you could set the software to automatically send a message to a sales representative whenever a customer fills out a form on your website. This feature moves certain procedures and data along within your program, minimizing your workload and taking care of the tiny details of your team's sales and marketing tasks.

Reporting

CRM reports break down your sales and marketing data to help you better understand and analyze leads, customers' buying behaviors, the number of outbound calls your team makes, and other important marketing metrics. Some CRMs offer more report types than others – with some allowing you to tailor your own reporting metrics – and more ways to view the data, such as in bar graphs or pie charts.

Customer Data Management

Understanding your customers is the first step in running a successful business. Customer data management tools allow you to organize data on customers clearly, helping you improve customer relationships.

Customization

Making your CRM your own will reduce the learning curve of using it and ensure it provides the information you need. When a program is customizable, you can pick the features you want and mold your contact fields, dashboard, reports, extensions, and plugins to best support your needs and budget.

Third-Party Integrations

Third-party CRM integrations provide a wider range of tools to use within your system. You can connect your CRM to programs with features the CRM may not have, such as your email marketing or accounting software. This saves you from manually entering data you already have in another program, constantly flipping between apps, and spending money on additional tools for your CRM.

To ensure you get the most out of your CRM system, outline what you're looking for and need before buying. This will keep you from overpaying for features you'll never use.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Common features in CRM systems include third-party integrations, workflow automation, customer data management, and customization and reporting options.

How to Choose CRM Software

1. Set a budget.

CRM costs range from free to upward of $200, so it's best to set your spending budget before you start shopping. It's easier to narrow down your options by eliminating CRMs outside your price range before you drill down into feature sets and service plans.

TipTip: Information accumulates quickly when you're shopping for a CRM. Keep a dedicated file or journal to capture all your notes for easy reference.

2. Make a feature list.

The number of tools and functions in even the most basic customer relationship management system can be overwhelming. For clarity, list the CRM features you must have and the features that would be nice to have but aren't crucial. This is a good time to get feedback from other people in your company who will use the CRM. They may recommend features you hadn't thought of or eliminate ones you thought they would need.

3. Gather referrals from businesses like yours.

In a crowded sales technology market, choosing the right CRM can be daunting.  Recommendations from people who understand the needs of your industry from the inside are invaluable.

4. Assess the current market.

The CRM space changes rapidly as technology improves, so high-profile solutions you've heard of in the past may no longer be the best choice. Small business advice websites and trade publications are the best way to see what's currently popular – and what's not.

5. Read reviews.

As your list of CRM candidates grows, take the time to read any user reviews you come across. You'll gain more insight as to how individual solutions perform in the real world than you will by reading about them on the vendors' websites.

6. Test your top choices.

At this point, you'll have a sense of which CRMs have the most potential, so take each one of these contenders for a test drive. Most companies offer free trials, so try as many as you can before spending money on a permanent solution. Sales reps are usually eager to answer any questions you have or show you a demo of their product, but remember that it's their job to present their CRM in the best light possible, so using the software yourself is the best way to test it.

7. Make your decision.

Once you've done your due diligence, it's time to make a final selection. It takes a while to work through all these steps, but it's time well spent on such an important investment. 

Advantages of CRM Software

A central location where your employees can log all customer communications and build marketing campaigns can benefit your business in multiple ways. A CRM offers your company the following abilities:

  • Organize and maintain customer information. CRM software is ideal for companies that need to use up-to-date data to service their customers. This is the most basic yet essential benefit that CRM software can provide for your business.
  • Forecast your sales process. CRM software allows you to predict your future sales based on past sales data. Sales reports and insights are key for companies to project future needs and costs.
  • Streamline and scale your sales cycle. With the data you receive from CRM software, you can streamline your sales process and cut out unnecessary steps. You'll see which types of communication work and which ones don't. When you need to scale up your sales process, CRM software can help you with that too.
  • Automate your workflow. CRM software automates data entry and administrative tasks, allowing your team to focus on building meaningful customer relationships. Workflow automation also minimizes the potential for human error.
  • Engage and build customer relationships. CRM software helps your team engage and build lasting connections with customers. Using the data stored in your CRM, your team can track customer information and cater their interactions to meet each customer's unique needs and preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions About CRM

What does a CRM system do?

Customer relationship management systems help your sales team log communications, manage leads and sometimes build marketing campaigns. In other words, a CRM allows you to build and maintain relationships with your customers and other businesses.

Organizations use CRM solutions for various reasons. Initially, though, the CRM industry was geared primarily toward sales and PR professionals, offering a convenient way to store information and track communications with customers. Today, CRM solutions straddle several areas of business customer relationship management, such as marketing, analytics, communication and light project management. Some CRM systems even have built-in chatbot and calling capabilities, letting your sales reps communicate with clients directly from the system.

What are some examples of CRM software?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is any tech solution that helps businesses manage communications with their current and potential clients. Leaders in the CRM software industry include Salesforce, Zoho and HubSpot.

What makes a CRM system "open source"?

When software claims to be "open source," it typically means that some or all of the source code is available to users for review and modification. Developers and programmers who want the ability to customize their CRM software extensively often opt for open-source solutions.  

What are the differences between ERP, CRM software and marketing automation?

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has some overlap with CRM software, so it's understandable that there's frequent confusion regarding the difference between ERPs and CRMs.

ERP software is intended to manage nearly every aspect of a business's operations, including accounting, human resources, inventory and analytics. As such, CRM capabilities are often built into ERP software. CRM software focuses specifically on managing customer information, logging interactions with clients, and storing sales-related lead details. Marketing automation, meanwhile, is what businesses use to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks to build their revenue.

Should I consider a free CRM?

The obvious perk of using a free CRM is that it does not cost anything. Systems like HubSpot move the needle when it comes to what free CRMs can offer, improving business processes and organization at zero cost.

Free programs typically limit the number of users, integrations and campaign creation opportunities. They give you just enough features to show you that you may need more. In other words, they are good starter programs to use while you figure out exactly what you want.

However, you may run up against poor security features or a lack of automatic backups. Free programs can be breached or lost, and they don't offer much support for growing companies.

What other tools integrate with CRM software?

Sales and marketing add-ons are the most common integrations for CRM solutions. Reporting and tracking tools are also popular. Direct integrations typically connect most quickly, while third-party integrations require middleware to facilitate the exchange of data between the CRM, the operating system, and other applications. Custom API integrations typically take longer because the integration has to be built.

How do I get my team on board with CRM software?

It's important to communicate to your team the benefits of a CRM system. Include your staff in the search process so you can find a solution that pleases everyone. Before and during implementation, make sure your team gets all the training they need so they're comfortable using the program. Talk to your employees about their concerns, and encourage them to ask questions so the training representative can address them. You want your team to feel that they can use the CRM system comfortably and proficiently.

What is a CRM analyst?

A CRM analyst examines your consumer data to help your business make the best sales and customer service recommendations. These experts help you understand your customers' needs and interests so you can determine the best ways to market to them.

What are the disadvantages of CRM?

As with any business strategy, there are some challenges in using CRM software. First and foremost, some systems may not be affordable for small business owners. In addition to being pricey upfront, many CRM services have hidden costs. For example, you might have to pay for system administrators, software developers, maintenance and data backups on top of the CRM's base fee. Read the fine print and ask the CRM company about any hidden costs before deciding whether you can afford a certain system.

Your CRM could also negatively impact your business if it shuts down or fails. You run the risk of losing all your records, which can hurt your business financially and let your customers down. Also, depending on the CRM's learning curve and your team's experience, training your staff to use the CRM effectively can be a long and tedious journey.

What is the first step in the CRM process?

The first step in the CRM process is research. Take time to understand your target audience and how you should approach them. You want to know their interests, how they prefer to be contacted, their demographics, and what forms of communication they respond to the best.

Then, divide your targets into groups so you can market to them directly according to their preferences. Gathering and grouping your leads is an important initial step in the CRM process, allowing you to better understand the marketing strategy you should create so you can successfully turn them into customers.

How do CRM systems typically handle automation?

You can automate three kinds of workflows within your CRM – your marketing, sales and service roles. CRM automation allows your program to perform certain tasks repeatedly so an employee doesn't have to do them manually. This not only saves time and streamlines your team's workflow, which can boost your company's overall productivity, but is also especially useful for moving consumers from the knowledge-gathering part of the buyer experience to the stage where they can be molded into a customer.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: CRM software is an important component of customer relationships that free up sales professionals to focus their efforts where they can do the most good. That can be the difference between a mediocre customer experience and one that keeps them returning to your business.

Lisa McGreevy contributed to the research and writing in this article.

What to Expect in 2021

In recent years, CRM software has become more sophisticated and integrated with a wider range of business operations. Social media and email integration, for example, have been hallmarks of the CRM evolution. With the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, CRM functionality will continue to grow.

In 2021, look for more automation and integration to streamline CRM usage, boost productivity and widen the scope of business operations that CRM tools impact. Generally speaking, AI will continue to automate key CRM functions, reducing the need for manual reentry of data and the potential for human error that comes along with it.

Additionally, we are seeing an increase in demand for CRM solutions that embrace and integrate voice technology. In a PWC survey, more than 90% of respondents said they use voice commands to operate their smart devices. This consumer demand has caused the CRM industry to integrate conversational applications and voice assistants.

Another key trend in CRM technology is the implementation of self-service features like chatbots and conversational AI. Businesses can effectively streamline customer service queues by using these features to answer common or basic customer questions. Expect to see these become common features in CRM software.

Like most tech industries, the CRM industry is seeing a demand for mobile capabilities. Mobile CRM is one of the latest trends in the industry, and it's especially useful for remote teams. The developers who tap into these trends in a way that maintains or enhances user experience are poised for success in the new decade.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: As CRMs develop, we expect them to increase their social media integration, AI, voice technology, self-service features and mobile capabilities.

Our Methodology

 

Locating the Best Services

To determine the best CRM software, we started by asking small business owners what software they use, what their likes and dislikes were, and what they think makes the "perfect" CRM software.

Choosing the Best Services

Next, we looked at CRM software that appeared on review sites, business websites and other reputable online sources. We also considered popular CRM software that we were familiar with, had heard about or received requests to consider.

Researching Each Service

From these sources, we gathered more than 60 vendors and listed their features. We broke that list down to 25, comparing them based on standout features like training and implementation resources, ease of use, speed of setup, design, and cost of additional features.

Analyzing Each Service

During our research, we tested our finalist picks ourselves. We signed up for business accounts, tried out software demos, downloaded their mobile apps, watched videos and contacted the vendors with questions, posing as business owners. To come to our final best picks, we evaluated each CRM on its cost, ease of use, contact management features, lead generation tools, sales and marketing tools, employee-tracking capabilities, customization options, automation capabilities, third-party integrations, reporting and analytics, mobile access service limitations, and customer service.

 
Simone Johnson
Simone Johnson
Business News Daily Staff
Simone Johnson is a business.com and Business News Daily writer who has covered a range of financial topics for small businesses, including on how to obtain critical startup funding and best practices for processing payroll. Simone has researched and analyzed many products designed to help small businesses properly manage their finances, including accounting software and small business loans. In addition to her financial writing for business.com and Business News Daily, Simone has written previously on personal finance topics for HerMoney Media.
Image Credit: shironosov / Getty Images
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