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Salesforce Review: Best CRM Software for Small Business

Salesforce Review: Best CRM Software for Small Business
Credit: Salesforce

Our 2018 research and analysis of customer relationship management software (CRM) leads us to again recommend Salesforce Small Business Solutions as the best overall CRM software for small businesses.  We chose Salesforce from dozens of CRM software options. To understand how we chose Salesforce, you can find our methodology and a list of CRM software vendors on our best picks page.

Salesforce is a full-featured CRM software for all types of businesses. With Salesforce Small Business Solutions, you can take advantage of all the capabilities Salesforce has to offer with select packages designed for small businesses. 

As an all-in-one software, Salesforce offers everything you need to find and keep customers, close sales and grow your business. Features include contact management, lead generation, opportunity management, sales forecasting, workflow automation, collaboration tools and many more — all in one, easy-to-use platform. Salesforce is also a cloud-based CRM software, which gives you anytime, anywhere access to your data, even from mobile devices.

Editor's Note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the CRM that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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Many companies claim that their CRM software products are simple to use. When we spoke with a Salesforce sales rep, we were told that the software offers an easy-to-use interface that doesn't require much of a learning curve. To test this, we demoed the software ourselves.

One thing we immediately liked about Salesforce is its customizable dashboard. When you log in, the dashboard greets you with a wide range of report widgets that give you a bird's-eye view of how your business is performing. Sales reps can also see real-time summaries of their own numbers and customer data. You can customize the dashboard to show you everything from quotas and pipelines to key opportunities, leaderboards, team summaries, sales numbers and many other types of data. 

We also liked how easy it was to navigate the software. There is a simple navigation bar at the top of the window. Each tab is separated into the categories, such as Home, Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Campaigns, Opportunities, Forecasts Files and more. This layout made it very easy to get to where we wanted to go. We didn't have to search around for what we needed — something we did have to do on several other CRM software products. As part of the dashboard's customizability, you can also reorganize each tab or add your own to cater navigation to your preferences. 

Furthermore, we were impressed by how organized each tab was. All data is displayed in a simple list, with links to each contact, account, lead, campaign, etc. The right-hand column also includes a Shortcut widget and Recent Items widget, so you can quickly get to your most recently opened items.

We were also fans of the software's social capabilities. Salesforce's social media function and news feed work very much like Facebook, making it very familiar and easy to use. You can easily browse the news feed and post status updates, upload files, share links and more, right from the dashboard. 

To try Salesforce yourself before purchasing it, sign up for a free trial here

Salesforce is all about streamlining the sales process to help your business close sales quickly and easily. To this end, the platform comes with all the features a small business needs to grow using a sales- and insight-driven approach. Everything is done in an efficient and automated way, and the software is designed to provide all of the information you need to manage contacts, find leads, turn prospects into customers, run more efficient marketing campaigns and much more.

Contact management. Salesforce offers a robust contact management system that lets you do more than a traditional address book would. In addition to storing phone numbers, addresses and other contact information, the software keeps other important data to give you a 360-degree view of each customer. For instance, each customer profile includes critical data like activity histories, deals they're a part of, past communications (and which sales reps are communicating with them), where they are in the sales funnel, and internal notes and discussions. Profiles also automatically populate contacts' social media accounts — including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — so you can instantly respond to questions, concerns and what they're saying about your company online.

Lead generation. The benefit of Salesforce's lead-generation system is twofold: It lets you make smarter marketing decisions while giving you all the tools you need to turn those prospects into sales opportunities. First, the software gives you a big-picture view of each lead by tracking them all the way back to which campaigns and marketing channels they came from, including social media. This lets you see where your marketing efforts are and aren't working, as well as which have the most impact on your sales pipeline. Next, Salesforce captures each lead's most recent activities and contact information, and then automatically assigns them to the right sales reps for timely follow-ups.

Opportunity management. Salesforce lets you efficiently manage opportunities and quickly close sales with built-in deal evaluation and quoting tools. In just a few clicks, reps can create detailed PDF quotes that automatically populate pertinent data — like customer information, quantities, pricing, payment terms, delivery information and more — and email it to the customer directly from the Salesforce platform. The software can also show you the value of each deal and the current stage of the deal, as well as track activities and receive alerts as accounts progress through the sales process. 

Forecasting. Manage sales forecasting in real time. Sales reps can quickly create sales forecasts that include all types of details, from monthly and periodic quota attainments to categories, revenues, contract values and customers. You and other members of your team can then review and adjust these forecasts in real time as you see fit and help sales reps reach their goals.

Reports. Salesforce aims to make it easy to generate and analyze reports. It features drag-and-drop reporting tools that include real-time charts, graphs and the ability to zero in on categories and the smallest details. Reports also appear in the dashboard, so you get all the data you need as soon as you log in.

Collaboration. Salesforce offers built-in social tools to help sales reps and other members of your staff collaborate to further drive sales. The platform includes features like a social news feed to allow for open discussion and the ability to share files, insights, data, sources, leads and more. 

Automated workflow. Guide sales reps through the sales process with automated workflow, which takes them through the different stages of each deal without requiring you to be there. You can automatically assign tasks, make recommendations and respond to approval requests (such as expenses, discounts and order placements) to make the process even faster. 

Mobile access. Access your CRM on the go with the full-featured Salesforce1 Mobile App. Just like the desktop version of Salesforce, the mobile app gives you access to your Salesforce dashboard; contacts and social profiles; sales and lead-generation tools; files; and more. The app also includes collaboration capabilities, so you can update your team on deal statuses and get help as you need it, wherever you are.

One of the biggest benefits of using Salesforce is that it offers nearly endless possibilities for expanding its core functionalities. The end goal is to cater it to your business's unique needs to get the most out of the software. This is all done using extensive third-party integrations via the Salesforce AppExchange. There, you can find hundreds of third-party integrations to make your CRM work with the solutions your business already uses — and new ones to help it grow. 

To illustrate, here are five examples of the robustness of Salesforce's capabilities when they're integrated with other business apps:

  • Real-time data. Connect Salesforce with industry resources like Data.com and Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) for the most up-to-date information on prospects, contacts and businesses. Salesforce says this helps to eliminate hours of research to find fresh leads and update data, so reps can dive right into calls, evaluating opportunities and selling.
  • Outlook integration. Access Salesforce data directly from Outlook. Salesforce Email Connect lets you view, add and edit contacts, create new deals, respond to customers, view calendars, send invites and more — all from your inbox. Data is also synced in real time, so you don't have to worry about manually updating information on each platform.
  • Marketing automation. Use Pardot Marketing Automation to create, launch and manage marketing campaigns straight from your Salesforce dashboard. Features include lead generation, prospect evaluation, targeted email marketing, Google AdWords integration and return-on-investment analysis to assess campaign effectiveness.
  • Sales performance management. Salesforce's own Work.com app helps you motivate and manage sales teams to help them reach their goals. The app also lets you evaluate performance, coach reps and track their progress on monthly, quarterly, yearly, per-project or goal-based metrics. 
  • Customer service. Use Desk.com to provide multichannel customer support; then integrate those communications automatically with your Salesforce contact profiles. 

The Salesforce AppExchange offers third-party integrations in a wide range of categories, such as sales, customer service, marketing, human resources, finances, enterprise resource planning, collaboration, analytics and IT. 

When we asked a Salesforce sales rep about these integrations, we were impressed that many of them can be used straight inside the Salesforce platform, to help your team be more efficient and productive. In contrast, some competing CRM software products only integrate data, thus requiring you to access multiple apps to get the job done. 

Find out more about the Salesforce AppExchange here.  

Of the many CRM software we evaluated, Salesforce offers one of the most comprehensive customer support systems. A toll-free customer service number and a live-chat feature are available on the company's website, so you can reach a real person whenever you need help. We were able to easily contact the Salesforce sales team, and the sales rep was happy to answer all of our questions without pressuring us to purchase a plan.

In addition to live support, the sales rep we spoke with said the software offers plenty of other help resources to assist you in implementing, using and troubleshooting Salesforce. He gave us a link to the company's Success Services page — which includes information on one-on-one help, training, certification and other support services — as well its YouTube page, where you can watch how-to videos and demos of Salesforce in action. 

Salesforce also has a dedicated Community page, so you can find help yourself. It includes a community forum, where you can browse common issues or post your questions to get an answer from fellow Salesforce users. This section also contains official Salesforce documentation, which offers a library of guides, how-to videos, articles and other online help resources to learn more about the software and resolve issues. You'll also be able to find for-hire Salesforce developers to help you implement and customize the software to fit your needs.

Although Salesforce is our top pick for the best CRM software, it is by no means perfect. Small business owners told us that two of Salesforce's biggest limitations are its complexity and its pricing models.

For small businesses, Salesforce's biggest strength is also its weakness. Because it is such a robust CRM, it's an excellent option for most growing small businesses — but it may be overwhelming for microbusinesses that don't need such a comprehensive software solution. This is particularly the case for really small companies that don't have a dedicated sales team or already have their own lead-generation and sales solutions that work perfectly for them. 

On the flip side, Salesforce is a premium, scalable solution that can grow with your business, the sales rep told us. Many small businesses use the software when they're in the startup phase and then take advantage of its more advanced features as the business expands.

Pricing may also be an issue for some small businesses. Salesforce starts at $25 per user per month, and is limited to five users. If you need more users, you'll need to upgrade to the $65-per-user-per-month plan, which lets you add an unlimited number of users. Although these are affordable prices for small businesses, the problem lies in customizing the software and adding on third-party solutions.

A big concern for small business owners is that there are additional costs associated with using Salesforce beyond its core capabilities. For instance, third-party apps that require additional licenses or accounts, such as Data.com, aren't part of Salesforce's pricing model. The sales rep we spoke with confirmed that you'll need to pay for those services on top of the Salesforce subscription. 

Moreover, if you lack the requisite skills to implement or customize the software, there are additional costs to hire developers to do it for you. Some small business owners we talked to said they were quoted hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars from developers to help them with the software.

Ready to choose a CRM software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.

Editor's Note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the CRM that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro, Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.