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Best CRM Software of 2022

By
Simone Johnson
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Feb 22, 2022

We've examined the best customer relationship management (CRM) services for small businesses. Check out our reviews to find the right program for you.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps small businesses engage with their customers and find new ones. The software, hosted onsite or in the cloud, gives companies a powerful and intuitive way to manage their customers' data. To help you decide which CRM platform is right for your small business, we researched price, ease of use, features, and integrations with other popular business applications. Below are our best picks and why they made it onto our list for 2022.

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NetSuite CRM

Why we chose it

Intelligent upsell suggestions
Website activity tracking
In-store and online data log

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Freshsales CRM

Why we chose it

Built-in phone system
Easy phone number porting
Extensive calling features

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Freshworks CRM caters to sales professionals who do most of their business via phone calls. It captures the data generated through those calls and houses it in an easy-to-navigate platform. With Freshworks, you can integrate your existing phone number or buy a new local or toll-free one from 90 countries in one click.

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HubSpot CRM

Why we chose it

90+ report templates
Custom report builder
Customizable reporting dashboards

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HubSpot places a significant emphasis on analytics and reporting. With its Forever Free plan, small businesses can access over 90 report templates, each of which can be arranged in customizable dashboards. Popular reports include deal forecasts, sales-funnel metrics and sales activity.

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Zoho CRM

Why we chose it

Full-featured mobile app
Map of nearby leads
Phone-based team collaboration

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Salesforce CRM

Why we chose it

Intuitive interface
Quotes and orders builder
Library of training resources

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Salesforce is a popular CRM app for businesses of all sizes, offering a host of valuable features and tools in an easy-to-use platform. With Salesforce, you can track deals from the lead stage to signed contracts, integrate your email campaigns with Gmail and Outlook, and run custom reports.

We've examined the best customer relationship management (CRM) services for small businesses. Check out our reviews to find the right program for you.

The Best CRM Software of 2022


  • 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

NetSuite CRM: Best CRM for E-commerce

Built on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, NetSuite is a truly unified, all-in-one commerce solution for sales, marketing and operations.
NetSuite is among the most customizable CRM platforms available.
You will have to purchase the full ERP platform to use any of the CRM's available features and tools.
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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 NetSuite CRM Review

Freshsales CRM: Best CRM Software for Integrated Calling

Each plan includes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone capabilities that can save money by allowing you to cut out other service providers.
You can run complex outbound email campaigns from this CRM.
Some automated activities, like bot sessions, are restricted with each plan and may require you to purchase added sessions each month.
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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 Freshsales CRM Review

HubSpot CRM: Best CRM Software for Reporting and Metrics

HubSpot's free plan is perfect for new businesses looking for a simple platform for sales, marketing and service.
HubSpot has one of the best libraries of primarily free integrations, with over 1,000 popular software applications.
HubSpot's minimum seat requirements may keep its upper-tier plans out of reach for smaller businesses.
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With thousands of integration capabilities featured in the new Operations Hub, HubSpot is a great option for sales teams looking to improve their performance by centralizing data from various software providers. Customers can easily connect third-party tools to sync and clean customer data while automating business processes to assist the efficiency of your team. Once you have integrated your other software platforms, your HubSpot CRM tracks sales funnel metrics, activity insights, productivity and performance across your sales activities. 

Editor's score: 92/100

HubSpot integrations also help businesses centralize lead information in one place. Every interaction with a lead, no matter the platform on which the communication took place, is stored in a tidy timeline so you will always know exactly where a conversation left off the next time you or any other team member picks it up. By syncing with Gmail, Outlook and social media platforms, HubSpot captures virtually every customer interaction and makes it easy to track and use. 

HubSpot offers a forever-free plan with more than 90 report templates available for customized dashboards, but its paid CRM solution adds customer report builders so you can access precise data and fine-tune report results. If your small business is looking to integrate and centralize your sales operations, HubSpot's free plan may be ideal. The basic paid plan for two users has a variety of appealing features, including a meeting scheduler and simple automation tools.  

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Zoho CRM: Best CRM Software for Remote Workers

Your out-of-office team can get real-time notifications when customers interact with your business.
Zoho's easy-to-use automations can save your team time on repetitive tasks and improve your sales processes.
Only Enterprise subscribers have access to the AI-powered tools.
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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

Salesforce CRM: Best CRM Software for Growing Businesses

Salesforce has the largest selection of targeted CRM products and customizable solutions to fit any business in any industry.
The modern sales features let you leverage the power of social media engagement to gain leads and drive sales.
Most Salesforce CRM plans require an annual commitment.
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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.

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.

Businesses that want to take their content marketing to the next level can take advantage of Salesforce's Amazon Web Services (AWS) partnership, which lets users offer personalized video streaming subscriptions to customers. This tool relies on Salesforce Customer 360 and Media Cloud subscriber lifecycle management capabilities to deliver AI-enabled personalization based on customer data and analytics. With today’s growing demand for direct-to-consumer video and live streaming services, businesses can deploy a Salesforce and AWS-powered video subscription to further engage customers through valuable video content.

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 CRM Review

monday.com Sales CRM: Best CRM Software for Integrated Project Management

Building and implementing timesaving automations is very easy with the premade templates.
All plans include the same 24/7 customer support by email and phone.
Automations are limited by number of actions each month.
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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.

Read monday.com Sales CRM Review

PipeDrive: Best CRM Software with Sales Pipeline Tools

Pipedrive is easy to set up and use, even for teams without dedicated IT staff to assist with implementation.
You can make better decisions faster with Pipedrive's easy-to-understand data visualizations.
You're limited in the number of open deals you can have running through your sales pipelines.
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For businesses in need of a powerful visual sales pipeline with at-a-glance information and data visualizations, Pipedrive is a great CRM solution. Its visual tools make it easy to understand each opportunity, while the drag-and-drop interface helps team members easily respond to the mission-critical tasks highlighted on the dashboard. With customizable pipelines and fields, you can optimize your existing workflow systems and improve processes across departments. And with a powerful mobile app, Pipedrive also helps you engage with customers and team members on the go.

Editor's score: 88/100

Pipedrive is easy to set up, even without a dedicated IT staff, and its visual features are designed to enhance the efficacy of sales performance, reporting tools, automation of workflows and communication tracking. With a native messaging inbox, you can automatically save interaction history to help Pipedrive deliver valuable information about sales strategy. Pipedrive's AI tool picks up on key opportunities for improvement with performance recommendations and suggested tasks. It calculates your average conversion rate so you know how many new leads to get and which activities to complete to meet your nearest targets. Real-time reports show if you're on track, giving you time to adjust course if needed and providing timely coaching to maximize your sales strategies. 

Pipedrive offers its customers a 30-day free trial with full access and no credit card required. At $14 per user per month when billed annually, Pipedrive's Essential plan provides 24/7 support and over 275 integrations. The Advanced plan, priced at $24 per user per month, includes additional workflow automations and email capabilities. At $49 per user per month, the Professional plan features in-depth forecasting and one-click calling. Pipedrive's most comprehensive plan, the Enterprise plan, costs $99 per user per month and adds unlimited feature use, user permissions and visibility settings. 

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Zendesk: Best CRM Software for Collaboration

Zendesk is especially well suited as a customer service CRM to manage your post-sale activities and renewals.
Zendesk offers a suite of collaboration tools to keep team members actively engaged and working together from any office location.
The home dashboard doesn't have the most user-friendly navigation of the CRMs we've reviewed.
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Zendesk offers unique native integration and customer services products to provide support through a full customer life cycle. Customer experiences that extend beyond the sales team require everyone to be on the same page. Zendesk Sell maximizes collaboration across departments, allowing teams across sales, marketing and support to work together with the same centralized data and goals. This CRM provider unifies data from multiple customer touchpoints, preventing different departments from duplicated communications or missing context. This is incredibly valuable for businesses with complex customer profiles and long-term relationships. For example, your support team can stay in the loop throughout the customer's journey across marketing and sales with Zendesk Support. 

Editor's score: 90/100

Zendesk's smart lists also help sales teams segment customers and filter leads, enabling marketing teams to monitor customer engagements and develop effective communications. This is just one way Zendesk's CRM solution supports accurate forecasting and management with full visibility into sales processes. Whether you are using the basic plan or an upper-level plan, you'll be able to provide high-level customer support with all of the current and historical information you need at a glance. 

Small businesses and solo entrepreneurs are best suited for Zendesk's entry-level plan. It includes core CRM features, basic reports and customizable sales pipelines. For those in need of sales forecasting, advanced call analytics and ample document storage space, Zendesk Sell's upper-level plans offer an appealing solution at a competitive price. Role-based permissions and other customizable settings give administrators granular control over data access within the CRM along with unlimited email templates to help teams streamline email marketing activities. 

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Keap CRM: Best CRM Software for Ease of Use

Keap has easy-to-use e-commerce features for billing and invoicing.
You can access more than 2,500 software integrations to streamline nearly any business process or workflow.
Keap uses contact-based pricing, which will mean additional expenses for teams with more than 10,000 contacts.
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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.

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. If you want to sync your customer data from other platforms, like MailChimp or Constant Contact, Keap offers a native integration for you to do so. The integration allows you to quickly sync your data while keeping your pre-built audiences intact, so you don't miss a beat with your customers.

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. What's more, Keap recently enhanced these e-commerce tools so businesses can create intuitive checkout pages with embedded promo codes and one-click upsells. You can also add branded logos and colors to make your checkout forms match your business. Together with Keap's intuitive automations and synchronization, these embedded features add to the software's overall usability.

Read Keap CRM Review

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 CRM software on the market, some small business owners find that nothing is quite the right fit. Enter Quickbase, a downloadable CRM 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. Quickbase starts at $600 per month when billed annually.

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Sage CRM: Best CRM Software for Customer Support

Bundling sales and support tools into a single platform keeps your software costs down and centralizes important customer data.
Simultaneous access to sales and service history provides a total picture of a customer's journey.
You have to call a sales rep to learn about Sage's CRM pricing.

Providing a superior customer experience doesn't stop 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

Add-on modules for sales, service, marketing and more make SugarCRM a platform that can grow with your business needs.
All three sales plans have tools for intelligent pipeline management and forecasting.
The entry-level Essentials plan has a relatively low seat cap of just five users.

For businesses of all sizes, keeping up with a fast-paced and evolving sales environment can be a challenge. SugarCRM has designed its software with automation in mind, and its AI-powered predictions and lead conversations help teams operate more effectively and efficiently in a digital landscape. While its add-on modules enhance its automation capabilities, SugarCRM's fixed core features work to maximize productivity without any customizations. Reports and dashboard summaries help you access the information gathered by SugarCRM's automated features through a centralized overview. The AI system develops a complete history of a customer's journey and predicts outcomes with impressive accuracy to help businesses stay on top of monthly, quarterly and annual goals. 

Editor's score: 85/100

Sugar Market, the marketing automation module that can be combined with the Sell tool, helps businesses attract more visitors and gain visibility. It's easy to cultivate leads with multistep nurture campaigns and conversion-focused emails along with CRM tools. Intuitive drag-and-drop page builders help users leverage the power of Sugar Market and reduce repetitive tasks. 

Most small business owners will likely be satisfied with the features and functions of SugarCRM's entry-level Essentials Sell plan. However, if your business has more advanced needs, including intelligent lead or opportunity prioritization, the Advanced plan with additional add-ons and AI-powered capabilities can increase efficiency immensely. SugarCRM's upper-tier tier plans feature tools like expanded customer support, cloud storage and advanced workflows. When billed annually, the basic tier plan, called Sell, starts at $49 per user per month with a three-user minimum. The Serve plan allows businesses to create better experiences for customers at key moments and starts at $80 per month. Next, the Enterprise plan starts at $85 per month and gives businesses maximum control over their CRM operations. FInally, the fourth and highest-level plan, Market, starts at $1,000 per month for 10,000 contacts and helps businesses align their strategies and operations on a global scale.

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Insightly: Best CRM Software Automation Tools

Insightly's easy-to-build personalized dashboards give your team members access to the data they need in their roles.
Insightly uses a flexible record-linking system to give teams better context for complex customer relationships.
Customer support is limited to email communications on the entry-level plan.

Offering a unique and highly useful relationship-linking feature, Insightly CRM gives customers extra control over their sales operations. For small teams without the ability to manage all the details of sales processes, Insightly offers a dynamic and easily customizable solution. Admins and reps can build their ideal personal dashboards to highlight particular contexts, metrics and workflows. While AI and predictive tools are available only with the most expensive plans, all of Insightly's service plans allow you to create specific rules for common events that trigger actions within the sales process. 

Editor's score: 86/100

Tracking metrics and key performance indicators is different for every business, and Insightly enables the customization of both reports and processes to fit any business in any industry. The highest-level plan gives customers the ability to create and specifically define entire workflows around a single event. These customization features can save a significant amount of time and relieve team members from monotonous low-productivity tasks. With complete workflow automation, custom validation rules, dynamic page layouts and configurable webhooks, Insightly offers impressive automation abilities with a fully featured plan.

Insightly CRM offers three distinct plans. The lowest-level plan, starting at $29 per month, allows you to work from any device and includes Slack integration with the AI bot to keep your team up to date on new leads and internal communication. The Professional plan priced at $49 per month helps businesses identify and manage leads with customizable real-time insight cards and additional integrations. For $99 per month, the Enterprise plan takes your CRM capabilities to the next level with stronger customer relationships, connections to any application and the ability to easily provide custom quotes for complex and customizable products.

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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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