Keeping track of your clientele and keeping tabs on new leads is crucial to generating more sales. Every lead can blossom into a lasting, profitable relationship, and knowing past orders can help you guide customers toward repeat purchases.
However, as you scale, managing all the customer data you need to foster these relationships can become an administrative nightmare—beyond what a simple spreadsheet (or hundreds of sticky notes) can solve.
Enter CRMs. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are the best way to streamline client data—from support requests to order history to contact info. With everything in one place, your team can create seamless, personalized experiences, no matter the size of your operation.
Here’s the best CRM software for small businesses, and how to choose the right one for your company.
What is a CRM?
A customer relationship management software system (CRM) is designed to help businesses improve customer relationships, boost sales, and increase internal efficiency. CRMs collect and store customer communications, information, and activity in a centralized database that replaces the multiple spreadsheets and apps that businesses often use to track customer data.
You can use a CRM to plan outreach, analyze performance, manage leads, and streamline customer support, marketing, and sales processes.
How to choose a CRM for your small business
- Identify your goals
- Determine CRM functionalities
- Consider your technology budget
1. Identify your goals
Different types of CRM systems serve different—sometimes specific—business objectives. Your goals may be:
- Creating a go-to-market hub. Facilitate marketing, service, and sales activities from a single database.
- Centralizing data. Integrate all your customer data to simplify analysis.
- Fostering collaboration. Give users across different departments access to customer data to streamline communication between teams, i.e., marketing and sales teams.
- Offering strategic insights. Access to benchmarks and recommendations for improvement.
- Accessing industry-specific tools. Meet your business’s unique needs with industry- or product-specific tools and built-in use cases designed around your specific industry.
A CRM likely serves users and teams across your company. When evaluating what’s right for your needs, be sure to understand the goals of every potential stakeholder. Then, strike a balance between addressing these specific needs and ensuring universal application.
2. Determine CRM functionalities
Before choosing a software provider, create a wish list of CRM functionalities that considers each of these four categories:
- Organizational tools. Contact management tools automatically gather and organize customer data, including contact details, purchase history, and customer communications. This eliminates the need for time-consuming manual data entry. Some also provide project management features and workflow automations.
- Marketing tools. Marketing campaign tools include marketing automations, lead management tools, email marketing tools, and marketing analytics tools.
- Sales tools. CRM software frequently includes sales and pipeline management solutions such as sales automations, sales analytics, sales forecasting, and deal management. This helps your sales team to optimize sales processes to correspond with customer buying cycles.
- Customer service tools. CRMs offer a number of tools designed to help your customer service teams monitor and improve customer relationships. Many systems allow businesses to accept and respond to customer requests and offer customer service analytics and built-in customer service automations.
- Analytics and reporting tools. With your customer data in one place, great CRMs offer the ability to analyze your funnels and customer groups with granularity.
3. Consider your technology budget
CRM pricing can get complicated. Some CRM vendors charge a flat rate for all CRM features; some offer bundled discounts; and some charge add-on fees for different CRM tools. Many provide tiered pricing that factors in the number of users.
Knowing your budget and exactly how you plan to use a system can help you choose a CRM provider that meets your needs.
5 popular CRM software programs for small businesses
Many CRM systems are designed to support businesses at various stages of growth. Small business owners frequently select user-friendly, affordable CRM services that provide options to scale or add additional CRM capabilities over time.
These five small business CRMs are popular for their ease of use, price, and range of features.
Pipedrive is a sales and pipeline management small business CRM. Founded in Estonia in 2010, Pipedrive provides email marketing, lead management, and sales management tools to more than 100,000 customers worldwide.
Pipedrive offers comprehensive sales management tools including sales analytics, sales forecasting, and a visual sales pipeline, which is a graphic representation of where your sales prospects are in the buying process. Pipedrive prides itself on offering best-in-class customer support and including many of its premium features in its lower-cost plans. Benefits include:
- User-friendly interface
- 24/7 support
- 275+ apps and third-party integrations
- 14-day free trial
Pipedrive is not primarily a customer service CRM or a marketing CRM. Its email marketing functions also don’t include a native emailing platform, so integration with a third-party system such as Mailchimp is necessary.
- Not a marketing or customer service platform
- No internal emailing platform
Pipedrive offers four paid plans, with all costs calculated per user, per month:
- The Essential plan costs $14.90 per user, per month
- The Advanced plan costs $24.90 per user, per month
- The Professional plan costs $49.90 per user, per month
- The Enterprise plan costs $99 per user, per month
Pipedrive also offers a 14-day free trial on all plans and does not require credit card information for trial access.
Freshsales is a division of Freshworks, a California-based software company. Since its founding in 2010, Freshworks has developed a suite of workplace software solutions, including the Freshsales sales CRM, a customer service CRM, a marketing CRM, and chat, human resources, and information technology management software.
Like Pipedrive, Freshsales is designed to help sales teams generate and nurture leads. The company serves businesses of all sizes, but is most commonly used by those with five to 10 employees. Freshsales clients include Dyson, Klarna, and Blue Nile.
Freshales offers enterprise-scale features at an affordable price, and the platform is known for its user-friendly interface. Features are designed to support sales activities and include sales forecasting, sales analytics, and customizable web forms for capturing visitor information. Benefits include:
- Free plan available
- Automations and AI tools
- Support for Freshworks and third-party integrations
- 21-day free trial
- Google Workspace integration
Freshworks’ customer service CRM is sold as Freshdesk, and its marketing CRM as Freshmarketer. Freshsales integrates with these CRMs, but Freshsales alone does not offer advanced customer service or marketing CRM capabilities. Freshsales also offers fewer integrations than some of its competitors. The company provides 17 native integrations (including Google Workspace) and 19 third-party integrations.
- Not designed for customer service or marketing functions
- No reporting available in the free plan
- Fewer integrations than some competitors
- No 24/7 support
Freshsales offers a free plan and three paid plans, each of which is billed per user, per month:
- The Growth plan costs $15 per user, per month
- The Pro costs $39 per user, per month
- The Enterprise plan costs $69 per user, per month
Freshsales also offers a 21-day free trial and does not require credit card information to initiate the trial.
Hubspot is a Massachusetts-based software company that focuses on sales, marketing, and customer service applications for businesses of all sizes and at all stages of development. Its clients include Walmart, GE Appliances, and the US Air Force.
Hubspot offers free CRM software and three paid CRM platforms: Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, and Service Hub. Hubspot also provides a content management system (CMS Hub), and operations software (Operations Hub).
Hubspot’s intuitive, user-friendly design makes it a popular choice for small business owners. The company’s Hubspot Academy provides free online training and certifications in marketing, sales, and customer service, while Hubspot Community offers a company-moderated help center and forum. Benefits include:
- Free plan available
- Discount for bundled products
- Educational tools
- User-friendly interface
- 1,000+ native and third-party integrations
- 14-day free trial
Hubspot Sales Hub offers less advanced analytics than some of its competitors, and the platform’s user-friendly interface comes at the expense of customization options. Drawbacks of Hubspot include:
- Limited customization options with no access to source code
- Less advanced sales analytics than some competitors
- Free plan has limited functionality
- 24/7 support not offered for free CRM or Starter plans
Hubspot offers a free CRM and three paid plans: starter, professional, and enterprise. The Hubspot Suite includes Sales Hub, Service Hub, Marketing Hub, a content management system (Content Hub), and operations software (Operations Hub). CRM suites are priced as follows:
- The Starter plan costs $45 per month for two users
- The Professional plan costs $1,600 a month for five users
- The Enterprise plan costs $5,000 a month for 10 users
Hubspot also offers a 14-day free trial with no credit card required.
Salesforce is a California-based software company that provides sales, customer service, marketing, and analytics products to businesses. With a stock market value of about $150 billion, Salesforce is one of the largest technology companies in the world. Clients include Spotify, Amazon Web Services, Toyota, and Macy’s.
Like Hubspot, Salesforce offers three distinct CRM products: Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud. Over the course of its 20-year history, Salesforce has also acquired a number of competitors and software providers, including Slack, Pardot, Mulesoft, Rebel, and Quip.
The Salesforce CRM is known for its best-in-class reporting and sales forecasting abilities, and for the system’s visual sales pipelines. Salesforce also gives users access to its code, allowing extensive customization. Benefits include:
- Advanced analytics
- Expanded software options through Salesforce-acquired companies
- Extensive customization options
- 2,500+ native and third-party integrations
- A free trial
Salesforce costs more than many of its competitors, and it is often considered more difficult to implement. Salesforce also doesn’t offer bundled pricing, and not all CRM features are included in its base plans: Outbound calling software, for example, costs extra. Salesforce drawbacks include:
- No free plan
- More complex implementation
- More expensive
- Many features cost extra
- 24/7 customer plan for premier plans only
- Less user-friendly than some competitors
Salesforce pricing depends on a number of variables. Salesforce Sales Cloud and Salesforce Service cloud offer four paid plans. Plans are priced as follows:
- The Essentials plan costs $25 per user, per month
- The Professional plan costs $75 per user, per month
- The Enterprise plan costs $150 per user, per month
- The Unlimited plan costs $300 per user, per month
Salesforce Marketing Cloud contains eight individual products and costs between $400 a month for basic marketing automations to $65,000 a month for Enterprise Plus customer data management. All plans offer a 14-day free trial that does not require credit card information.
Capsule is a sales-focused CRM that provides analytics, reporting, email, and project management tools. Capsule was developed by the UK-based software company Zestia and places a special emphasis on serving startups and small and medium-sized businesses. Clients include UK-based design agency Sookio and coffee roaster HASBEAN.
Capsule provides more robust project management than many other sales-focused CRMs. It is also known for its visual sales pipeline and for integrating with popular tools including Google Workspace. Benefits include:
- Free plan available
- Project management functions
- 50+ third-party integrations
- 30-day free trial
Capsule’s analytics tools are less advanced than some of its competitors, and the free plan comes with a contact limit of just 250. Capsule’s free plan also doesn’t offer any sales reporting capabilities.
- Analytics tools less advanced than some competitors
- 250-contact cap on free plan
- No reporting on free plan
- No 24/7 customer support
Capsule offers a free plan and three paid plans, each of which is billed per user, per month:
- The Professional plan costs $18 per user, per month
- The Teams plan costs $36 per user, per month
CRM software for small businesses FAQ
How do I choose a CRM for my business?
To choose a CRM, identify your business goals, technology budget, and intended use. Then evaluate different CRM providers and packages for prices, functionality, and ease of use.
How can a CRM help a small business?
CRMs can help small businesses save time, organize customer information, increase sales, and improve customer experience. Many CRM providers offer free plans or basic CRMs designed to meet the needs of small and growing businesses for an affordable price.
What are the different types of CRMs?
There are four types of CRMs: