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Best CRM Software of 2021

By Simone Johnson,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Apr 20, 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 Easy-to-Use CRM
Base fee: $79 per month
Best Overall CRM for Small Businesses
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Base fee: $14 per user per month
Featured Sponsor
Base Fee: Plans start at $29 per user per month.
Best for Growing Businesses
Base fee: $25 per user per month
Best Low-Cost CRM
Base fee: $15 per user per month
We've examined the best customer relationship management (CRM) services for small businesses. Check out our reviews to find the right program for you.
Updated 04/20/21

We've updated this page to include what businesses can expect to see from CRM software in 2021.

  • CRM stands for customer relationship management program, which is used to engage and build relationships with consumers.
  • CRMs can be hosted in the cloud or on-premises.
  • CRMs help users manage their customers' data.
  • This article is for small business owners interested in finding information on the best CRMs and what to look for when choosing one.

When searching for a CRM, there are multiple factors to consider, including how much it costs and whether it has all of the features and tools your company needs. With so many options on the market, we spent time researching and analyzing more than 60 systems to determine the ones we think are best for various types of businesses. We came to our conclusions after looking at a number of factors, such as how much each CRM costs, how simple it is to use and how well it integrates with other popular programs. You can read more below about our recommendations, as well as what you should be thinking about when choosing CRM software.

CRM Review Summary:

Software Researched 25
Minimum Monthly License Fee $10 per a month
Maximum Monthly License Fee $79 per month
Free Trial Available 30 day

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Our Reviews

Keap: Best Easy-to-Use CRM

You can set up automated processes that send messages to new leads.
Keap's marketing campaign builder allows you to automate any sales or marketing process you design.
Keap does not offer customer support over the phone on weekends.

Keap offers a wide range of features to help small businesses better organize their contact data so they can deliver great service. Through its plethora of marketing tools, Keap's platform keeps your customer information organized and your sales team's daily work in one place. This creates a less cumbersome and repetitive experience for users, allowing more time for you and your team to move through sales tasks seamlessly. Keap's all-in-one sales and marketing software is designed to be easy to use for entrepreneurs and startups.

January 2021: Keap released a native integration to Zapier. The Zapier integration library of more than 2,000 applications, including Shopify and Facebook, is included in all of Keap's plans and can be accessed by going to the Integrations page in the Keap app. According to Keap, no additional download or installation is required to access the integrated apps.

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Zoho CRM: Best Overall CRM for Small Businesses

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Easy to implement, intuitive to use and inexpensive to adopt, Zoho CRM offers users lots of functionality at a competitive price point. While the customization options aren't as extensive as those of some other CRMs we reviewed, there are still many ways to tailor Zoho to meet your needs. Like Zoho's other business apps, its CRM module feels modern, clean and immediately intuitive. Zoho also offers a bevy of click-to-install extensions through the Zoho Marketplace, and the easy adoption process make it possible for businesses to build out a custom CRM solution without a developer.

Zoho CRM is an extensive solution that's ideal for just about every small business. It has a decent price point and provides good support to customers.

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FreshWorks CRM: Featured Sponsor

FreshWorks CRM is a customer relationship management software solution by Freshworks that makes it easy for businesses of all sizes to attract, manage, close and nurture their leads. With an intuitive user interface and an expansive feature set, including built-in phone and email, artificial intelligence-based lead scoring, visual deal pipelines, intelligent workflow automation, and customizable visual reports and dashboards, FreshWorks CRM gives businesses everything they need to manage their sales without having to juggle multiple tools.

FreshWorks CRM, a customer relationship management software application by FreshWorks CRM, is designed for businesses of all sizes. With an easy-to-use user interface, FreshWorks CRM makes it simple for businesses to attract, manage, close and nurture their leads. The software includes several valuable features, including built-in phone and email service, artificial intelligence-based lead scoring, intelligent workflow automation, customized visual reports and dashboard, and a visual deal pipeline. In all, FreshWorks CRM provides businesses with a CRM that lets them manage all of their sales leads from one program.

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Salesforce: Best for Growing Businesses

Salesforce is an all-in-one, cloud-based solution that has everything you need in CRM software. Although this software is typically associated with larger businesses and enterprises, Salesforce's small business edition lets you take advantage of the product's robust set of CRM tools and resources at an SMB-friendly price. Part of Salesforce Small Business Solutions, the platform is very easy to use and includes key features like lead generation, contact and opportunity management, sales forecasting, and workflow automation. While small businesses can take advantage of the lower-priced tiers, the plans and features of the Salesforce system are suited for larger businesses.

February 2021: Earlier this month, Salesforce unveiled its new loyalty management platform software. Designed for both B2B and B2C business, the tools allows you to create loyalty tiers and time-based promotions for your customers. The new loyalty platform is open to all Salesforce customers.

December 2020: Salesforce announced this month it will purchase Slack, an instant messaging social enterprise application. Widely known for its use as an internal messaging system for businesses, Salesforce plans to use Slack to improve its outbound communication. It is unclear how this acquisition may impact pricing, but as of now, Slack will be included with Salesforce Cloud as an essential component of Salesforce Customer 360.

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Less Annoying CRM: Best Low-Cost CRM

With just one subscription plan costing $15 per user per month, Less Annoying CRM takes the complexity and expense out of adopting a customer relationship management solution. Less Annoying CRM doesn't have all the features competing CRMs have, but it simplifies the implementation process: You can expect to have the system up and running in hours. Anyone interested in Less Annoying CRM can check out a software demo and screenshots online without filling out a form or submitting a request.

It's an approachable small business tool that can handle all of your needs from a sales and CRM standpoint, plus it's easy to implement, whether you have experience using CRM solutions or not.

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HubSpot CRM: Best Free CRM

HubSpot offers independent contractors and owners of tiny businesses an easy entry into the world of CRM solutions. The free version of HubSpot may offer enough functionality to improve processes and organization at zero cost. It offers users a wealth of training resources in its online library, including learning guides, invoice template generators, email signature generators and marketing plan template generators. Motivated users have a great DIY buffet of options – without the need to spend money on development and training.

Of all the companies we reviewed, HubSpot has the best free option. This is ideal for very small businesses or other companies that have little experience using CRM systems. Further, HubSpot has one of the most extensive online training libraries to pull from.

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CRM Pricing

Most customer relationship management software is priced on a per-person, per-month basis, but companies typically opt for annual billing to simplify the payment process. 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 there are many services that only charge $10 to $15 per user per month. Affordable systems like these typically have quick implementation times and don't usually require much in-house tech support to get things up and running. 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 records they can store.

  • $20 to $40:For additional features and a broader range of integrations with third-party systems, a CRM priced in the $20 to $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 users supported and storage caps that could force you to upgrade to higher-priced plans.

  • $50 to $75:CRM software that falls in the $50 to $75 range per user is typically intended primarily 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 include extensive training, customization and implementation services with the software. An additional reason behind 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 a lot of money into a product that ultimately doesn't work for you.

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

CRM Features

When seeking a CRM program, it's important to know what you need. Here is a list of common features you'll find in a CRM system

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation is the base of how your system moves and the automatic actions that take place within the software. Let's say a customer fills out a form; workflow automations will automatically send a message to the sales representative. This feature moves certain procedures and data along within your program. Workflow automation minimizes your workload and takes care of the tiny details that help operate your sales and marketing tasks.

Reporting

Reporting features are good for breaking down your sales and marketing data. This data helps you better understand and analyze information about leads, sales, the number of outbound calls being made and other important marketing metrics.

Customer Data Management

Understanding your customers is the first step in running a successful business. Customer data management allows you to organize data on customers clearly, which can ultimately lead to better customer relationships.

Customization

Making your CRM your own will reduce the learning curve of using it. 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 integration provides a wider range of features and tools to use within your CRM. You can connect your CRM to programs with features your system may not have, such as your email 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 takeaway: Common features in most CRM systems include third-party integrations, workflow automation, customer data management, and customization and reporting options.

Types of CRM

The main difference between an on-premises CRM and a cloud-based CRM is where the system is located. An on-premises CRM, also referred to as an onsite CRM, is hosted on your office server and installed directly onto each user's computer. It also requires a larger one-time fee, and your company must handle the upgrades and system maintenance. Unlike an online CRM, it does not require an internet connection.

A cloud-based CRM, on the other hand, is hosted on the CRM provider's server. This means no installation is needed and it charges lower monthly fees. You and your team can access the program remotely from anywhere, and the CRM provider handles all upgrades and maintenance.

Key takeaway: There are two kinds of CRM systems. An on-premises CRM is housed on your company's servers and installed on your computers. A cloud-based CRM doesn't require installation and is available on any device as long as you have your login information and pay the subscription fee.

Benefits of CRM Software

Having a central location where employees can log customer communications and build marketing campaigns can benefit your business in multiple ways. With a CRM, you can:

  1. 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.
  1. Forecast your sales process. CRM software allows you to forecast future sales based on past sales data. Sales reports and insights are key for companies to project future needs and costs.
  1. 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. See which type of communications work and which ones don't. When you scale your sales process, CRM software can help you with that too.
  1. 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.
  1. Engage and build consumer relationships. CRM software helps your team engage and build lasting customer relationships. Using the data stored in your CRM, your team can track customer information and cater their interactions to meet each customers' 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. A CRM allows you to maintain and build a relationship with your customers and other businesses.

Organizations use CRM solutions for a variety of 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, marketing, analytics, communication and lightweight 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 refers to any tech solution that helps businesses manage communication with 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 is what businesses use to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks to build their revenue.

Should I consider a free CRM?

The obvious perk to 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, much like their integration offerings 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 there isn't much support for growing companies.

What other tools integrate with CRM software?

Sales and marketing add-ons are the most common tools integrated with CRM solutions. Reporting and tracking tools are also popular. Direct integrations typically connect the fastest, 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 everyone is pleased with. Before and during implementation, make sure your team gets all the training they need so they're comfortable using the program. Talk to 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 comfortably and proficiently use the CRM system.

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?

Some CRM 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 also be paying for system administrators, software developers, maintenance and data backups. Read the fine print and ask the CRM company about any hidden costs before determining 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. 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 is process 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 form 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 tools within your CRM – your marketing, sales and service roles. CRM automation allows your program to perform manual tasks repeatedly so an employee doesn't have to. This not only saves time and streamlines your team's workflow, which can boost your overall productivity, but is also especially useful for moving consumers from the informational and knowledge-based part of the customer experience to the stage where they can be molded into a customer.

Previous Best Picks

Business News Daily strives to find the best products and services for your small business. We invest hours into identifying and researching the best products and services so you feel confident about our recommendations.

We update our categories each year, considering changes in the industry and new companies. Our process involves revisiting our previous best picks to determine if they are still the best in their categories.

In addition to our current recommendations, here are the companies we previously selected as best picks:

Community Expert Insight

Rameez Ghayas, digital marketer at PureVPN, believes that the best CRM programs are straightforward and agile systems that push users to develop and strengthen customer relationships.

Qualities that Ghayas valued when searching for a CRM included quick and easy setup, ease of use, minimal upkeep necessary to function well, useful integrations, and customer intelligence features. It is for these reasons that he currently uses automated sales CRM Salesflare

"You won't have to manually input data anymore, as Salesflare integrates with your email, calendar, phone, social, web, company databases, etc.," Ghayas said. "It's a sales CRM that fully automates customer info and timelines."

Stephanie Riel, marketing automation consultant at RielDeal Marketing, felt that HubSpot was a great program because it offered similar advantages.

"I like that there are a plethora of free tools and resources, including contact management, tasks and activities, reporting, and more basic tools," Riel said. "Their interface is also very user-friendly for those without much previous CRM experience. It is a great introduction to CRM for small business owners that scales at a moderate price point for the functionality. HubSpot's real-time support is also amazing. Their team is accessible and helpful as you're using the system."

Riel had also tried Salesforce, but she ultimately switched to HubSpot because she found Salesforce's interface confusing and hard to use. She also did not find its customer support tools helpful.

Sanket Abhay Desai, digital marketing consultant for It's Online Marketing, felt that it was important for a CRM to support and help build the relationship between clients and companies. He found these features in HubSpot, which increased his customer conversions by 7%.

"Its marketing module makes marketing automation very seamless," Desai said. "HubSpot's marketing component called Workflow helps structure drip campaigns and follow-ups very easily. Testing different landing page templates and CTAs within Workflow is also very easy and intuitive."

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
See Simone Johnson's Profile
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.
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