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Even if your business is just starting out, customer relationship management (CRM) software should be the hub of your company’s interactions with all of your current and future customers and clients. CRMs manage contacts, track sales, record activities, send emails, make calls, and dozens of other functions. Some go above and beyond and include features that let you manage projects, automate processes, build reports, or market your business.
No matter your requirements, there’s a platform that will fit your needs. To help your search, we’ve tested several dozen platforms that are designed specifically for small businesses or have features suited to small teams. Click on any app to learn more about why we chose it, or keep reading for more context on small business CRMs.
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who’ve spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it’s intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We’re never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
Cost is usually a major consideration for small businesses, so we only evaluated CRMs that have plans that cost less than $60 per month per user.
Ease of use was also considered. Small businesses owners shouldn’t need a specialist to manage their CRM software. It should be approachable for everyone using it—salespeople, marketing, the office manager, and on up to the CEO. And it shouldn’t require outside help for set up and ongoing management.
For our review, we looked at each company to ensure they offered phone, email, and chat support. The different channels are important because they represent levels of urgency. For example, if you have a pressing issue you’ll get faster resolution by phone than by email.
We tested each platform and its overall user experience. Was setting up each CRM essentially self-explanatory? Were there helpful resources along the way if we needed them? Would we be comfortable using this every day?
We compared features. All CRMs should have contact and deal management, task automation, and reporting, along with unique features that make them stand out from the crowd.
Finally, CRMs should integrate with other business software such as eCommerce, telephony, email, or marketing platforms either natively or with Zapier. All of our selections provide integrations to help you expand your capabilities.
Vtiger includes sales, marketing, and help desk features in their all-in-one plan, and also offers a sales-only CRM for those just looking to get their feet wet. It also includes project and inventory management, telephony, social media integration, and internal collaboration. This makes it ideal for small businesses looking for an affordable, do-it-all CRM.
The backbone of Vtiger is the ability to link contacts to opportunities, quotes, cases, projects, and invoices. All of the software’s major functions, called Modules, are accessed from a hamburger-style menu at the top. Clicking on any one will open up only that app to keep things simple and focused. However, from any Module, you can easily create contacts, tasks, opportunities, projects, and other actions.
For example, if you want to create a contact quickly, click the plus icon at the top right, select contact, add a last name, select who it’s assigned to, and pick the contact type. That’s it. You don’t need an email address or even a first name if you’re in a hurry. You can add more info later. There’s also an option to use the full form if you want a more complete record. A few handy features in the contact record are options for do not call, email opt-in/out, SMS opt-in, and referred by.
The marketing app lets you create professional-looking email templates and campaigns. You can segment your contacts based on multiple conditions, such as lead source, engagement score, location, industry and products purchased, plus send autoresponder email campaigns based on triggers such as emails opened and links clicked.
The help desk app provides service case management, live chat, work orders, internal tickets, and real-time performance metrics. Live chat is handled through an integration with Olark, which offers a low-priced and free plan. Cases can be created from email, phone, chat, and social, and linked to contacts with a quick search in the case record. Some options in the case record are priority level, linking products (from the inventory management app), adding billable service, and service level agreement (SLA) info, which you can customize.
Zoho CRM’s feature-rich sales platform and deep selection of add-ons make it ideal for businesses needing scaling capabilities. The CRM offers customization options to accommodate growing teams and some slick artificial intelligence tools to help high-volume teams identify qualified leads.
Along with contact and deal management, SalesSignals notifies reps when leads and customers interact with your company’s different channels. Whether it’s visiting your pricing page, opening an email, or a mention of your brand on social media, you’ll receive real-time notifications and documentation of the interaction in the contact’s record.
SalesIQ is an add-on that provides live chat and lead scoring based on demographics and contact behavior, such as time on site and pages visited. Again, the data collected is posted to the contact record, giving sales reps additional insight about their customers and opportunities. There is a free starter version and a trial for the paid plans.
Artificial intelligence (AI) features found on the Enterprise plan help busy teams prioritize leads and deals. For example, the AI system tracks a contact’s event data, such as calls, emails, and chats. It then suggests the best time to reach these individuals so reps have a better chance of making a connection. The lead and deal scoring feature also use past data—reps’ interactions and contact characteristics—to predict the probability of success for both. Based on these, each lead and deal is given a probability of success score between 0 and 100 percent.
As businesses grow, so do their needs for a flexible CRM. Zoho lets you customize modules, fields, pages, buttons, and other elements. For example, you can design a “create a proposal” button that links to your proposal software or Google Drive templates.
Finally, Zoho’s suite of software is designed to meet all of your business’s needs. In addition to the CRM, Zoho has products for accounting, collaboration/projects, help desk, email campaigns, surveys, forms, social media, and human resources. Some of these, such as Campaigns, Desk, and Survey, also offer free plans to get started.
Zoho CRM price: Free for 3 users; from $12/month for paid plans
Some software companies create products with the latest gee-whiz technology but then lose sight of the user experience, making it difficult to set up, navigate, and operate. Freshworks CRM is not one of those companies. Its CRM is designed to allow anyone to jump in and immediately use even its most advanced features.
When you sign up for Freshworks CRM, you’re first given a short tour of the major features (you can opt to skip) and then taken to the activities dashboard. This page includes lots of white space so your first impression is not overwhelming. Here you’ll be prompted to import leads and add tasks and appointments. There’s also an explanation—What’s this page about?—describing the purpose and uses of the page with a link on how to use the dashboard and one for submitting feedback.
On every page, there’s a question mark icon with options for live chat, demo request, feedback, and FAQ. Clicking on FAQ suggests articles for common topics such as leads, contacts, email, tasks, and other settings, and there’s also a search button that instantly displays short explanations for your topic. For more detailed info, you’re given videos and links. During our test, their chat reps were responsive and helpful.
The settings menu displays your options—email, automation, user roles, etc.—with clear explanations of what each setting does and why it’s beneficial. On the left, there are related help articles and videos with detailed instructions. In Pipelines, for example, you’re shown the default pipeline and given the opportunity to revise it or create a new one. And there are seven help articles and a video on various pipeline topics such as “how users can set their preferred pipeline.”
If you’ve exhausted the resources and still need help, there’s phone, email, and chat support included with all accounts.
Freshworks CRM price: Free for unlimited users; from $12/month/user for additional features
With HubSpot’s free CRM, you’re allowed unlimited users and up to 1 million contacts. It’s not only easy to use, but it also includes some features normally found in paid plans such as live chat/bots, email tracking, and meeting scheduling.
The user interface is straightforward, with major functions presented across the top with dropdowns for each. Under Contacts, you can access contacts, companies, and an activity feed of sent and received emails. To create a contact, click on Contacts > Create contact. Then add an email, first name, and last name. Once created, contact records offer one-click actions for emails, calls, tasks, and meetings. There’s also a two-click Search in Google action that jumps to the contact’s search results.
When you connect your Gmail or Outlook accounts, you’ll be able to track email opens and sync your calendars to schedule meetings with one click. The calendar sync also enables an automatic meeting scheduler used in chat and allows you to send contacts a link they can use to schedule a meeting. All of your email and meeting activities will be captured in the contact record.
The Sales tab is where you can manage deals, tasks, documents, and meetings. You get one customizable pipeline with the ability to create multiple versions with a paid upgrade. To keep things simple, a deal’s page is laid out the same as a contact’s. Associating contacts to deals is just a matter of searching for a contact in the record.
Under Conversations, you’ll find a central inbox for seeing all tracked email, chat, bot, Slack, and Facebook Messenger conversations. It’s also where you can set up and manage these channels. For example, with chat, you can customize the look and set availability options. The Chatflow option lets you create messages for different chats and bots, adding items like greetings, info capture, site page location, and meeting scheduler.
HubSpot CRM price: Free for unlimited users; from $50/month for additional features
Insightly combines sales and project management capabilities in one easy-to-use but powerful platform. This makes it ideal for small businesses who need to keep their sales and project delivery teams working collaboratively and efficiently.
Insightly keeps the user interface clean and purposeful with all of the functions—called Objects—aligned in a left-side column. Settings and support are accessed from a dropdown menu at the top right where you’ll also find the quick-add button for tasks, contacts, projects, and more. The Home page displays visual dashboards for sales and projects that can be customized in Dashboards.
The foundation of Insightly is set on Objects—such as contacts, leads, and projects—and Fields. Both are highly customizable and can be invaluable for collecting data specific to your business.
For example, I created a new Object for Partners in System Settings to be a repository of companies we collaborate with on projects. I clicked on Partners in Objects to customize the fields. I added new fields for website, email, contact, phone, and a notes section and then made all of these fields mandatory under Page Layouts. Once we add our partners, I can then create a custom field in Projects for Partners to associate the right company with each project.
You can create an infinite number of these associations within Objects so your sales and delivery teams are always on the same page. Making some fields mandatory ensures important information doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Another useful feature is an Activity Set, a group of tasks that can be applied to a contact, opportunity, lead, or project to automate processes. Sales teams might have one for handing off a closed deal to the projects team. The Activity Set might include tasks for the sales rep to create a file for the new client in Google Docs, schedule an internal team meeting, and write a client summary. Rather than create each of these as individual tasks for each new customer, you create it one time as an Activity Set that will assign these tasks automatically.
To help measure and track sales and projects, Reports provides dozens of prebuilt options plus the option to customize your own. The prebuilt reports include opportunity value, funnel stage analysis, tasks, reasons for losing, and others. For example, the funnel analysis shows opportunities broken down by pipeline stages in a bar chart and a detailed list showing deal name, sales rep, probability, and value.
Insightly price: Free for two users; from $29/user/month for paid plans
All Bitrix24’s plans—even the free one—include multiple users, and the cost per user for its Standard plan breaks down to only $1.98/month if you have the maximum number of users. For companies that need to keep costs down but have a lot of team members, Bitrix24 is well worth a look.
Not only is Bitrix24 inexpensive, it’s powerful. It has enough features to power several CRMs, including sales, marketing, project management, online store/website building, customer service, and HR management.
The software’s functions—about 20 in all—sit in a left-hand column. Fortunately, you can hide items and customize the order, otherwise, it can feel overwhelming. Also, each function is compartmentalized, making them easier to manage. For example, clicking on CRM > Settings brings you to options for pipelines, fields, integrations, and others.
Contact records display all activities within the CRM, including deals, quotes, orders, and communications. Third-party integrations extend the functionality to email, texting, and calls, all of which you can perform from within the contact. And all of these conversations will be recorded in a timeline. Deal records have the same functionality, showing activities and providing access to different communication channels.
The marketing app includes campaign creation for email, text, and voice broadcasting (also known as robocalls). You can also run ad campaigns for Google Adwords and Facebook. Creating segmented lists is fairly easy. Go to Segments in CRM Marketing, click Create Segment, then select from lists of clients and leads. For example, using the online store app that tracks cart abandonment, you can create a list of eCommerce leads who failed to purchase that green velour tracksuit in the last 30 days and send them a 20% off coupon using a text campaign.
The online store is a feature found in few other CRMs, and Bitrix24 keeps it simple. Creating and publishing a few pages using their premade templates took less than 10 minutes with no coding needed. You can use Bitrix24’s address with your own subdomain, like my velourtracksuits.bitrix24.shop. Or you can connect the store to your own site through your domain registrar—a straightforward process for a semi-technical person. You can then connect payment systems such as PayPal, create a catalog, and manage inventory all from the app.
Bitrix24 price: Free for 12 users; from $19/month for two users with advanced features
Best small business CRM for automating sales processes
While bpm’online’s name may have changed to Creatio, it’s still a process powerhouse designed to simplify and automate sales and other functions without needing to code. This makes it ideal for companies that want to collaborate on complex processes that require multiple steps, approvals, or teams.
Contact records include convenient information fields, such as current time zone and preferred communication channels. The Feed tab enables your team to post contact-related messages in a thread, keeping all communication details easily accessible for collaboration.
Opportunity records contain some equally practical features, like the number of days in the funnel and sales rep mood emoticons for a quick overview of a deal’s health. The Tactics and Competitors section allows you to list both your strengths and weaknesses for a given deal and those of your competitors. There’s also a section to add the tactics you’ll use to win the deal.
In the dropdown menu at the top left, you’ll find Studio, the section for overall settings and processes. The Process Library contains prebuilt flows for leads, opportunities, messages, social likes, approvals, and others. Click on Opportunities > Qualification and you’ll see a decision tree with user actions, system actions, and events, which are used to create the steps in a given process. Each section of options contains color-coded icons to help identify them. Clicking on any one brings up a description and menu for specifying what happens at this step.
In addition, there are Gateways that activate parallel workflows and/or branching scenarios. Let’s suppose your contracts must be reviewed by the CEO and company attorney. If automated, the next step in the process—signing the contract—can’t take place until both of the previous tasks are completed. This only scratches the surface of what you can do with a given process.
Creatio price: From $25/month/user
Best small business CRM with marketing capabilities
Investing in both a dedicated CRM and marketing software can be expensive for small businesses—and there’s no guarantee they’ll place nice together. Agile CRM is one of the few that performs sales and marketing duties with equal proficiency.
All of the plans include both capabilities. For small teams that work closely together, these apps offer features that keep sales and marketing on the same page. To start, you can fine-tune access for each member of your team for each app. For example, you can provide sales reps access to email templates in the marketing app, but restrict access to campaigns.
Contact creation is the easiest I’ve seen; it requires only a first name to start a record. This could also be a curse for sales managers wanting complete data, but on the whole, it’s a nice feature. Another practical feature is the ability to score contacts manually. If you’re a sales rep and just spoke with someone who you feel is a good future prospect, you can assign a certain score based on this. If you then add this contact to an email campaign—which you can also do in their record—they can be scored automatically based on their future actions.
The marketing app displays all contacts that have been created, whether manually from a sales rep or automatically through a webform, email, or other channels. From this view, you can filter contacts by several criteria, such as score, owner, or campaign status. You can also add contacts to current campaigns or start a call campaign list that you then forward to sales.
To create a campaign, click on Campaigns > Add campaign. From here, you’ll see a general list of the campaign types such as newsletter, SaaS, eCommerce, social, etc. When you select one, you’ll be taken to a drag-and-drop editor with templates that can be modified. The eCommerce cart abandonment campaign lets you send followup email and text coupons to visitors who reached the checkout page but didn’t complete the sale. You can change trigger actions and automated responses based on customer activity.
Agile CRM price: Free for 10 users; from $9.99/month/user for paid plans
Kristin Myers is an award-winning journalist and Editor-in-Chief of The Balance. "A Time for Change,” a weekly program that explores race, diversity, and inclusion in the world of business, finance, and politics. Kristin holds a master of arts in international journalism from Cardiff University and a bachelor of arts in English from the University of Pennsylvania.