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5 Free CRM Software Systems for Small Business Owners

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As your business scales, the tools you use to meet your customers’ needs change. You might go from hand addressing packages to using a postage printing machine, or from working out of your basement to renting a small office.

The same applies to managing customer relationships. Although spreadsheets, ledger books, and even Post-it notes might work to keep tabs on your customers at first, a growing business requires more sophisticated tools. Customer relationship management systems (or CRMs) are a popular solution: In 2020, 91% of companies with 10 or more employees reported using CRM software to manage their customer data and support their operations.

Here’s what makes good CRM software and the best free systems to get you started.

What is a CRM?

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a software application designed to help businesses manage and improve relationships with current and potential customers.

CRM platforms collect and store customer and business information in a centralized database. Operations, customer service, sales, and marketing teams can then use this data to plan outreach, analyze performance, and streamline core business processes. CRMs make it easier to provide personalized service to each customer, which helps boost satisfaction and loyalty.

The downside is CRMs can be costly. Enterprise systems can run more than $60,000 annually, and costs increase as you add more customers, users, and specialized features to your plan. Fortunately, many CRM providers offer free versions for small businesses.

Although free CRM systems aren’t exactly the proverbial free lunch—most companies limit users, customer lists, and other features—free versions can allow small business owners to test drive CRM software without committing to a purchase. As long as your business stays within the free version’s limits, you can enjoy your free ride in perpetuity. When you outgrow it, you can purchase a paid plan with the confidence that its tool meets your needs.

What makes a good CRM software?

A good CRM is reliable, user-friendly, and helps provide quality customer support. Beyond this, the answer becomes more personal: The best CRM for you is easy to use, fits your budget, and meets your specific business needs.

Different types of CRMs come with different toolsets, each with various functions. For example, a marketing-focused CRM might come with multiple marketing tools and a few critical organization and sales services.

CRM tools tend to fall into four categories: organizational tools, marketing tools, sales tools, and customer service tools. When choosing a CRM, decide which of these features are most important to your business:

  • Organizational tools. Contact management is a core feature of many CRMs. Contact management tools collect and organize customer data and customer communications, eliminating the need for manual data entry. Some CRMs also provide organizational tools that support management, inventory management, and workflow automations.
  • Marketing tools. CRM marketing tools often include lead management and lead generation features. They also include email marketing tools like mass-emailing and email tracking, and marketing analytics tools, such as landing page and website visitor tracking. (Many also enable marketing automations.)
  • Sales tools. CRM software frequently includes sales management and pipeline management features. These can include sales automations, sales tracking, and deal management features designed to help your sales team save time and optimize sales processes.
  • Customer service tools. CRMs offer several customer support tools, which can help your customer service teams monitor and improve customer relationships. Some also offer customer service analytics and customer service automation.

Once you’ve determined which functions are most important to you, look for a CRM system that offers the tools you need in its free version.

Many CRM software providers offer both free and paid plans. Free versions typically limit the number of contacts and users, and restrict certain features like CRM integrations, but allow you to test drive a CRM system without committing to a purchase. 

Whether a free CRM system can meet your long-term needs depends on the size of your business and how you intend to use the platform. If your business outgrows the free version, you can always upgrade to a paid plan with expanded capabilities and larger user and contact limits.

Here are five companies—listed in no particular order—that offer popular free CRM tools (as well as paid plans for when you’re ready to upgrade). The features plus the pros and cons are all based on the free version of each tool: 

1. HubSpot

Hubspot, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focuses on sales, marketing, and customer service applications for businesses of all sizes and at every stage of development. Hubspot also runs Hubspot Academy, a free educational resource to help marketing and sales professionals build their skills and make the most of their CRM. 

Pros

  • One million contact limit
  • Unlimited users 
  • Marketing, sales, service, operations, and CMS tools
  • User-friendly interface
  • Third-party integrations including Google Workspace and Microsoft Office

Cons

  • Fewer customization options
  • Customer support is not offered
  • Account limited to one sales pipeline
  • No sales automation

2. Freshsales

Freshsales is a sales-focused CRM division of Freshworks, a California-based sales, customer service, operations, and marketing software provider. Freshsales CRM offers contact and account management and is most commonly used by small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Pros

  • Unlimited users
  • Built-in email, chat, and phone
  • 24/5 email customer support chat system
  • 10,000 contact limit
  • Contact management tools

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer customer service tools or marketing features
  • Sales reporting not included
  • Fewer third-party integrations than some competitors

3. Zoho Corporation

Zoho Corporation is a software as a service (SaaS) provider headquartered in Chennai, India, that focuses on serving small and medium-sized businesses. The company’s free CRM enables marketing and sales automations and account, deal, and lead management. Unlike Freshsales, Zoho CRM’s free version includes reporting. Records—Zoho’s version of contacts—can be edited or removed to help you stay below the contact limit.

The downside is Zoho’s free CRM has a lower user limit than some competitors, customizations are limited, and mass emailing isn’t included.

Pros

  • Supports account, sales, and lead management
  • 5,000 contacts, accounts, and deals limit
  • Over 60 standard reports 
  • Up to 2,500 workflow rules 
  • Three company email addresses

Cons

  • Three-user limit
  • No mass emailing
  • Limited customizations
  • Customer support not offered (i.e., self-service customer support only)

4. Capsule

Capsule is a UK-based sales-focused CRM provider that serves small and medium-sized businesses. Capsule’s CRM includes analytics, reporting, email, and more extensive project management tools than many other sales-focused CRMs. It is also known for its visual sales pipeline and for integrating with popular tools including Google Workspace.

However, Capsule’s free version has a contact limit of just 250 and the plan doesn’t include sales reporting.

Pros

  • Project management tools
  • Mobile app
  • User-friendly interface
  • Third-party integrations include Google Workspace

Cons

  • Two-user limit
  • 250 contact limit
  • No sales reporting
  • Account limited to one sales pipeline
  • Customer support is not offered

5. Bitrix24

Bitrix24 bills itself as an online workspace built around the company’s core offering, the Bitrix24 CRM. Bitrix24 supports lead generation, marketing, and sales processes, project management, and inventory management.

Bitrix24’s free CRM offers scaled-back versions of paid plan functions like pipeline management, lead management, reporting, automation, and sales tracking. Unlike most free CRMs, Bitrix24 doesn’t place contact limits on any of its plans. Instead, it limits total cloud storage—for the free version, the limit is 5 gigabytes. Paid plan limits range from 24 gigabytes to 3 terabytes. Bitrix’s free plan also has a 12-user limit, making it less ideal for companies with larger sales and marketing teams.

Pros

  • Multiple CRM functions
  • Unlimited contacts
  • User-friendly interface
  • Email, voice, video, and chat functions

Cons

  • Limited customizations
  • Steeper learning curve than some competitors
  • 12 user limit 
  • Customer support is not offered

Free CRM FAQ

Which CRMs are truly free?

Many CRM platforms offer completely free versions, including:

  • HubSpot
  • Freshsales
  • Zoho CRM
  • Capsule
  • Bitrix 24
  • Airtable
  • InFlo solutions
  • Agile CRM

These CRMs are free in perpetuity, although many limit the number of users or contacts, or reserve certain premium features for paid plans.

Is Zoho CRM really free?

Zoho offers a free CRM that allows up to three users and 5,000 records (which counts contacts, deals, and accounts). Zoho’s free CRM also offers more than 60 standard reports, although users who require mass-emailing functions or advanced customizations will need to upgrade to a paid plan.

Does Google have a free CRM?

Google doesn’t offer a free CRM, but many CRMs—such as Capsule, Freshsales, HubSpot, and Agile CRM—offer free versions that integrate with Google Workspace and GSuite.

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