Perhaps this is a flawed comparison, but do you ever get overwhelmed with all the emails and all the WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook messages you receive from friends and family? Sometimes I think a good CRM software could be just what I need to organize my social life.
Thankfully, your working life doesn’t need to be quite so chaotic. There are tons of excellent tools to help small businesses out with all those leads the marketing team has been generating, plus the existing customers you want to keep track of.
Depending on the size of your company, you could be managing anything from a handful of leads to thousands a month (though how many of these are qualified leads is another story). Managing these in a way that moves them through the sales pipeline towards conversion is a delicate process and many leads will fall through the cracks. However, a good CRM software will provide you with the means to lock in as many deals as possible.
So let's take a look at the best CRM for small business owners!
Check out this video to learn more about the top 3 CRMs (5 mins):
Here are 12 of the top CRM software solutions we think are worth checking out. You can read why further down:
HubSpot – Free CRM with 1M contact limit
Freshworks CRM – Advanced customization options
EngageBay – Great price & easy-to-use
ActiveCampaign – Advanced automation
Pipedrive – Time-saving email features
Zoho CRM – Super suite of services
Salesforce – Most advanced CRM software
Agile CRM – 10 users for free!
Streak – CRM for Gmail
Less Annoying CRM – Simple pricing structure
Drip – Ecommerce CRM
Keap – Take online payments
Sendinblue – Unlimited contacts forever
Table of Contents
CRM software stands for customer relationship management and it refers to the approach of managing potential and existing customers. It enables businesses to better organize and access customer data (no more flimsy post-its cluttering up your desk!), meaning that marketers and sales agents have access to real-time data to work with.
CRM software as we know it today is a fairly recent development. The first open-source CRM system was developed by SugarCRM in 2004, a time when CRM was swiftly moving to the cloud. This meant that it was no longer simply a tool reserved for enterprises. Instead, it was now accessible to solo-preneurs and small teams who previously couldn’t afford such software.
CRM software has continued to evolve since then as standardized CRM solutions were replaced with industry-specific ones, making them customizable enough to meet the needs of every business. For example, those with online stores should check out Drip’s ecommerce CRM, which comes with advanced marketing automation features.
It’s clear that in order to compete in any industry that revolves around direct customer relations you need a decent CRM software. In fact, with a CRM system, most companies see a significant increase in leads, sales revenue, and customer retention.
Salesforce deal pipeline
As I’ve mentioned, good CRM software will allow you to customize your dashboard and the data you collect, but there’s more you should look out for.
Price: As a small business, you don’t want to be spending half your monthly budget on CRM software, especially when there are a number of powerful free CRM options for those just starting out.
Ease of use: The last thing you need as a small business owner is the overwhelming task of learning new complex software. Luckily for you, CRM tools have been revolutionized in the last few years, meaning that even a complete beginner can easily get to grips with the tool in a couple of sessions. It’s also good to look out for a tool that has good support and a detailed knowledge base and training videos.
Just the right amount of customization: Some tools can be slightly overwhelming due to the sheer number of customization options available, but you also don’t want to find yourself limited by the software.
Pipeline management: The real benefit of using CRM software is moving more leads through the pipeline to conversion. A good tool will give you a holistic view of where your leads are in the funnel and help you to take profitable decisions.
Is it cloud-based?: You and your team will need the ability to access your CRM data from anywhere at any time, and on any device. You’ll find that not all CRM solutions have their own app.
Integrations: A good CRM will be able to smoothly integrate with all your favorite social, productivity and email marketing tools.
Good support: Of course, you want your CRM software to be as easy to use as possible, but in case you come across any issues, you’re going to need responsive, helpful support you can count on.
Most people who work in sales or marketing have heard of HubSpot. Its co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan, even coined the now very well-known term ‘inbound marketing’, a philosophy that HubSpot is built on and seeks to educate its users on through courses and free resources.
Founded in 2006, HubSpot has come a long way since then, now employing over 3,000 people around the world. After all, it does have a plethora of products and excellent customer support to accompany them.
The great thing about HubSpot is that you can get started for free, and many businesses won’t need to upgrade from the free plan for years. In fact, it won’t charge you a cent if you have under 1M contacts. Pretty generous, right?
What I liked about HubSpot:
HubSpot CRM is an excellent product for small businesses looking for a free tool. You can: track leads and customers, create timelines of your interactions with customers, chat in real-time with prospects, integrate with Gmail and Outlook, create tasks and goals for your team, and much more. These messages and calls can be tracked, and if you upload documents to the platform, you can see when the contact has opened them.
The great thing about the software is it’s painless to use. You can tell they’ve invested time and money into designing a user interface that won’t overwhelm non-techies. It also offers a mobile app and allows you to integrate with hundreds of third-party apps.
Both the free plan and the Marketing Hub Starter plan come with unlimited users. The Sales and Service Starter plans come with 2 users, or you can pay to add more.
What HubSpot could improve:
Some businesses might decide that they’d like to upgrade to one of HubSpot’s paid plans in order to benefit from additional features (e.g. contact and company insights, email templates and tracking, etc.). The problem with this is that your subscriber limit actually drops right down from 1 million to 1,000.
Plus, there’s the issue of price. If you want access to its pro sales features such as sales automation, predictive lead scoring and multiple deal pipelines, you’ll need to fork out a tremendous $400/month.
HubSpot CRM – Free
Marketing Hub – Free / $50 / $800 / $3,200/month
Sales Hub – Free / $50 / $400 / $1,200/month
Service Hub – Free / $50 / $400 / $1,200/month
Growth Suite (All products bundled together) – Free / $113 / $1,200 / $4,200/month
Freshworks CRM is part of a multi-product suite. It also offers products related to customer service tickets (Freshdesk, which you have probably heard of), live chat, call centers, and more. It was launched in 2011 in India and Freshworks CRM came on the market 5 years later (though it was known as Freshsales then).
Freshworks’ package is a very complete one. It includes built-in phone software (which automatically logs calls), lead scoring, user behavior tracking and sales automations.
What I liked about Freshworks CRM:
This is a very robust CRM software for small businesses; it offers a great deal in terms of customization options and the type of information you can store. Aside from the 25+ fields, it gives you, you can add as many advanced custom fields as you need (on the Customer-For-Life Cloud).
In spite of having so many options, it boasts a simple and easy-to-navigate interface. I especially liked the drag and drop deal pipeline view, which gives you all the information you need at a glance, including tags such as ‘Warm lead’ or ‘At risk’, so you prioritize leads that need your attention.
Freshworks has its own app for both Android and iOS (though this isn't included in the Marketing Cloud plan, unfortunately).
What Freshworks could improve:
The fact that you have to commit to the entire year doesn't give you much flexibility as a small business.
Just a small detail, but when moving deals around on the pipeline, it sometimes takes a few seconds to update.
Be aware that no reports are available in the free plan and you won’t have access to the sales funnel view in the Deals section.
*All plans are billed annually* – Find out more about Freshworks' pricing
Marketing Cloud: $19/user/month – $99
Sales Cloud: $29/user/month – $99
Customer-For-Life Cloud: $29/user/month – $125
EngageBay is another great CRM software for small businesses due to its affordable prices and a myriad of features that will keep both the sales and marketing team happy.
The EngageBay team prides itself on building a software that anyone can use and boasts a customer base of over 5,000 companies, which isn’t bad considering it was founded in 2017.
It gives you a 360 view of your customers, allowing you to see every point of contact made (be it SMS, automations, phone call, emails) at a glance.
What I liked about EngageBay:
EnageBay’s pricing structure is divided into sales, marketing and service hubs, and I found the plans to be very affordable. Its prices rise incrementally and its Basic plan costs just $12.99/month per user.
In terms of usability, EngageBay is very intuitive and a good choice for those who don’t have a ton of experience working with CRMs. A neat feature is that you can switch between the sales, marketing, service and live chat dashboard, meaning that everything is organized in a way that doesn’t overwhelm each individual team.
What EngageBay could improve:
The free plan limits your emails and contacts to 1,000, which is on the small side considering that other free CRM tools like HubSpot come with unlimited contacts. Its list of direct integrations is also not very big.
EngageBay doesn’t have a mobile app. If your business requires this feature, check out Freshworks.
CRM & Sales Bay: Free for 1,000 contacts, 1,000 emails/month, 2 lists, appointment scheduling, predictive lead scoring, Gmail/Outlook/Office 365 integration
Basic: $12.99/month per user for 10,000 contacts and 10,000 emails/month
Growth: $24.99/month per user for 20,000 contacts and 20,000 emails/month
Pro: $49.99/month per user for 30,000 contacts and 30,000 emails/month
ActiveCampaign is first and foremost an email marketing provider, and it does this very well! In fact, ActiveCampaign is our number one tool for sending email campaigns. Its automations and deliverability are excellent, but what about its CRM software?
ActiveCampaign was founded in Chicago in 2003 and launched its CRM software eleven years later to complement its main offering. The cheapest plan it’s available on is the Plus plan, which costs $70/month, though there are discounts if you pay yearly.
So why choose ActiveCampaign’s CRM software for your business?
What I liked about ActiveCampaign:
The price may seem a little more expensive considering ActiveCampaign doesn’t offer a free plan, however, you should note that it comes with advanced email marketing automation (which really is excellent) and up to 25 user accounts for your coworkers. Other providers on this list charge per user – which can get rather pricey quickly – and don’t include advanced automations.
With its drag and drop deal pipeline, the system is easy to use. Stages are fully customizable, so you can create as many as you need. If you have multiple sales processes (e.g. for each product or service you sell), you can also create a pipeline for each of these.
What ActiveCampaign could improve:
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to export your list of deals from the tool (this could be done through an API, but it’s not ideal). The reports could perhaps go a bit deeper.
Some might not like that the concept of leads and accounts doesn’t really exist within the tool. Instead, everyone is a contact and the deals associated with it and everything else is all managed in the same place.
See how it did in our ActiveCampaign vs HubSpot comparison.
Plus plan: $70/month for up to 2,500 contacts, unlimited sending, lead and contact scoring, advanced email marketing automation and 25 users.
Professional plan: $159/month up to 5,000 contacts, machine learning capabilities, training and consultation sessions
Pipedrive is a very affordable CRM for small businesses. The clean interface makes it very easy to navigate and get set up quickly.
You can sync Pipedrive with your email client (Gmail, Outlook, etc.), and you can sync emails from as far back as 6 months. These are then linked to your respective contact persons, organizations and deals.
Sharing contacts with other team members is super easy. It also has some email features that help you save time, such as templates and group email to up to 100 contacts.
What I liked about Pipedrive:
The platform is fairly intuitive and makes it easy to get a holistic view of your leads and sales. The email features mentioned above help you to be more productive by automating routine tasks. Its reporting features are also pretty comprehensive, allowing you to really dive deep into each sales agent’s metrics.
All plans come with unlimited contacts.
What Pipedrive could improve:
The Products feature, which allows you to add particular products to deals, is available in the Advanced, Professional, and Enterprise plans. In my opinion, this seems like a must-have feature for all plans.
The email features available in Pipedrive are more limited than other providers on this list.
Check out how Pipedrive compares to HubSpot.
Prices start at $15/month on the Essentials plan.
The most complete package is the Professional plan ($59/month). This comes with 60 workflow automations, team management, group emailing and the ability to make sales calls directly from the platform. See how the plans compare in our complete Pipedrive pricing guide.
There is no freemium plan but you can try it out for free for 14 days.
The fact that you can have up to 3 users for free, makes this CRM software pretty attractive for small businesses.
What I liked about Zoho:
You have 3 different views (kanban, canvas and tubular) for contacts, leads, accounts and deals. This is really helpful as one view might be better than the other in certain instances.
The ‘activities’ section is pretty useful as it allows you to filter by activity type, e.g. open tasks, tomorrow’s meetings, all calls, etc. This isn’t something I’ve seen in other CRMs.
It offers you what feels like hundreds of reports, and, of course, you can create custom reports and add the most important ones to your favorites. The analytics section is detailed and visually very easy to read. You can also create custom dashboards.
If you are not sure about anything, you’ll surely be able to find the information you need in Zoho’s extensive knowledge base or via their helpful customer service agents.
What Zoho could improve:
The interface isn’t particularly modern – I’d like to see a design upgrade in the near future. Whilst it’s great that Zoho has so many different Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products on offer, it can sometimes be a bit confusing and not so easy to go between them.
There’s no live chat included in the package, instead, you'll need to sign up for Zoho Desk or a third-party application.
It’s a bit disappointing that customer segmentation and autoresponders are limited to the Professional tier, however, it still remains cheaper than HubSpot.
Zoho CRM Pricing:
Free: For up to 3 users
See our detailed pricing guide for more information
*20% off on annual subscriptions
Salesforce is a CRM powerhouse. In fact, it may well be the most widely used CRM tool on the market. Although this software is typically used by larger businesses and enterprises, Salesforce's small business package lets you take advantage of the product's robust set of CRM tools and resources at a discounted rate.
Whether it is for you or not totally depends on your needs and tech experience. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use CRM software that you can set up fairly quickly then Salesforce probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re willing to invest a little more time and want to benefit its advanced customization options then keep reading.
What I liked about Salesforce:
Salesforce boasts a range of advanced features like sales forecasting and workflow automation – there really is no limit to what you can do and it makes it easy to scale as your business grows.
Salesforce recently acquired Evergage, thus giving Salesforce access to its advanced artificial intelligence technology. Users will no doubt benefit from the advanced predictive features in the near future.
What Salesforce could improve:
The Salesforce interface is quite overwhelming, even for someone with CRM experience. The set-up process is quite a bit more time-consuming than with other CRMs and you’re encouraged to register for training and connect with a Salesforce-certified consulting partner to help you with the process.
Be aware that the small business plan (Lightning Essentials) only provides support for up to five users at a time.
Read more about all the pros and cons here.
Salesforce offer a generous 30-day free trial
Lightning Essentials: $25/month/user, billed annually
Lightning Professional: $75/month/user, billed annually
Agile CRM’s affordable prices won them a spot on this list of CRMs for small businesses, but low prices aren’t everything. On paper, it looks pretty good; it comes with all the right features and gives you decent allowances, but how easy is it to use, and how well does its system work?
What I liked about Agile:
The fact that Agile’s free plan comes with 10 users is a big advantage for small, but growing, businesses. The free plan also comes with a number of features, such as a landing page builder, email campaigns and tracking, lead scoring and appointment scheduling. Starting at just $8.99, the paid plans are very affordable.
The system is well-designed, and the dashboard gives you a nice holistic view of your activity and what needs to be done. You can switch between pipeline and list view, and filter based on tags.
Within the contact profile you can see everything you need: tasks, emails, deals, lead score, etc.
Phone support is included on all paid plans, and you can make and receive calls from leads within the platform on the Regular plan.
What Agile could improve:
I found adding contacts not to be that user-friendly. First, there are three options that look to be offering the same thing. Secondly, my contacts took a long time to appear in the contacts list, even though I only added seven people.
This and a couple of other items not loading correctly makes the system feel a bit buggy.
Free for 10 users, 1,000 contacts
Starter: $8.99, 10,000 contacts
Regular: $29.99, 50,000 contacts
Enterprise: $47.99, unlimited contacts
Streak CRM is made for those who want to manage contacts and deals without having to leave Gmail. As someone who has an account with hundreds of tools, I have to say that Streak’s is a pretty appealing proposal. It sounds like a streamlined solution, but do you miss out on functionality and features? Let’s find out!
What I liked about Streak:
In terms of the system, you create pipelines and add leads/orders/projects as they come in. There are a number of pipeline templates, which are handy. You can also add tags to contacts or email threads, and track emails.
What Streak could improve:
Some users might find their inbox looks a bit cluttered with all the different colored tags, but it’s pretty subjective – you might also love it.
Organizing your pipeline is a little cumbersome without the use of drag and drop technology, but I guess that’s the price you pay for keeping all your data in Gmail. It’s also missing its own dashboard – it would be useful to be able to see reports at a glance. And, of course, adding these types of extensions never makes Gmail faster.
It’s definitely worth checking it out on the free plan, for those just starting out. However, I’d be hesitant to recommend Streak’s paid plan over other CRM services, which offer much more for the same price.
Free: Basic CRM, 500 contacts, 50 emails/days, email tracking
Solo: $15/user/month, Basic CRM, 5000 contacts, 800 emails/day,
Pro: $49/user/month, Advanced CRM, 5000 contacts, 1500 emails/day, shared pipelines
Less Annoying CRM was started by two brothers in 2009 in San Francisco with the aim of making a CRM that was…well….less annoying. To me, this sounds kind of gimmicky, so I wanted to find out if this was actually the case.
What I liked about Less Annoying CRM:
It has a simple pricing structure with just one very affordable plan that includes all features. You won’t have to commit to a whole year like with some other services, and you’ll have 30 days on the free trial.
There is a helpful beginner’s guide, made up of video tutorials, and you also get free one-to-one consultations with your CRM coach.
What Less Annoying CRM could improve:
Setting up your pipelines and adding leads to them is a cumbersome process, mainly because of how hidden the pipeline area is and how much back and forth is required to set up the pipeline, add leads, and then view the pipeline. It doesn’t make any sense to me that the option to create your pipelines is found under the ‘Settings’ tab and to view them, you’ll need to click on ‘Reports’. The lack of drag and drop technology doesn’t help the overall user experience.
An absence of reporting features is a big disadvantage, as I think even the smallest of companies can greatly benefit from these insights.
Integration options are very limited.
Less Annoying CRM Pricing:
$15/user/month with all features included
Drip came onto the scene in 2013 and has since attracted more than 6,500 ecommerce brands. It first grabbed our attention for its pretty decent marketing automation features and then, once we looked into it as a HubSpot alternative, as an excellent small business CRM software.
It is primarily directed towards online store owners, and promises to help them increase engagement and sales through advanced personalization and automation features. Sounds pretty good, right?
What I liked about Drip:
Drip has an advanced tagging system, whereby contacts can be organized based on virtually any custom field. It will also score leads based on activity and behavior, meaning that you’ll know who to contact with interesting offers and new products.
What’s cool about Drip is that you can automatically add content like product recommendations and top-selling products straight to your newsletters, using the Visual Email Builder.
What Drip could improve:
Unlike some other tools on this list, Drip doesn’t offer a free plan. You’ll pay $19/month for 500 contacts and all features. Be aware that if you go over the subscriber limit, you’ll automatically be bumped up to the next plan (without warning).
Drip is slightly different from dedicated CRM software as it doesn’t include a pipeline view or allow you to add deals. This is because it is focussed purely on ecommerce customer relationship management.
Prices start from $19/month for 500 contacts and all the features.
Keap, from Arizona, USA, was previously known as Infusionsoft, until 2019 when they changed the name. Its services include customer relationship management, marketing automation, lead capture, email marketing and e-commerce.
What I liked about Keap:
Set-up is made easy by a step-by-step process. You can import your contacts directly from email providers and CRM software, including Mailchimp, Constant Contact and HubSpot, amongst other options.
Keap helps you to draw up professional-looking quotes and then seamlessly convert them into invoices with just one click. You can enable online payments, which makes it very easy for customers to pay you instantly via PayPal or credit/debit card. It’s also possible to set up recurring payments, meaning no chasing up on your end – though this feature is reserved for Pro plan customers.
There are 12 responsive email templates available. The designs aren’t bad-looking, and they’re easy to edit and A/B test.
What Keap could improve:
Keap’s biggest disadvantage are its prices. Unfortunately, there is no free plan and the cheapest plan starts at $79/month for 500 contacts and just one user. What’s more, key features such as landing pages, pipelines, advanced automations and reports are reserved for the pricey Pro plan ($149/month).
Currently, SMS messages and phone line are only available in the US and Canada.
All plans require an expensive one time payment of $499 for coaching
All plans include 1 user and 500 contacts
Like Drip, Sendinblue is another email marketing service that comes with CRM features. Having everything in one place like this is very handy and will no doubt help you to increase conversions and manage existing customers.
Set up lists to add your contacts to, add notes and relevant documents to individual customer profiles and create tasks and assign new contacts to different members of your team.
What I liked about Sendinblue:
Sendinblue’s free plan comes with unlimited contacts, marketing automation and web tracking, as well as a robust CRM. Because Sendinblue charges per email rather than per contact, businesses who have a large contact base but send just a few emails per month will find this tool pretty interesting. They recently added a deal pipeline area, whch makes them an even more attractive CRM, especially when you consider that you can use all this for absolutely nothing.
What Sendinblue could improve:
There are two areas for you contacts: your email marketing contacts and your CRM contacts. You need to manually move them over to the CRM area or upload them from your computer. If you had to do this regularly it could get tiresome.
There’s no tag to assign a lifecycle stage to a particular contact.
All plans include unlimited contacts
Free for 300 emails/day
Lite: $25/month for 40,000 emails
Essentials: $69/month for 60,000 emails
If you’re specifically looking for a free CRM software then you have a couple of options: HubSpot, Freshworks, Zoho CRM or Agile. However, when comparing the features available, HubSpot definitely wins.
You’ll get 1M contacts, unlimited users and 2,000 emails/month for absolutely nothing. Unlike Freshworks, HubSpot won’t keep your reports from you, in fact, it offers a number of pre-made reports in its Reports Library.
Check out this overview of the best free CRM software for more information.
So now it’s up to you to decide which CRM software is right for your business.
The easiest to use tool for beginners is either HubSpot, Freshworks or EngageBay, and you should find you have enough features and advanced customization options to meet your needs. Another easy-to-use option is Streak, though the functionality is more limited.
If you need something more robust and don’t mind taking some time to learn how the product works then Salesforce is worth checking out, though I have to say that I found it quite overwhelming.
Have you tried any of these tools? Let us know your experience in the comments below.
02 Nov 2021 – Moved Zoho down
31 Aug 2021 – Added Less Annoying CRM
18 Aug 2021 – Moved Agile down
07 Jun 2021 – Updated Sendinblue
18 May 2021 – Added Agile and Streak
11 May 2021 – Keap moved down
06 Apr 2021 – Updated Zoho's prices
18 Mar 2021 – Keap added