Best CRM for small businesses in 2018
Want to grow your small business? Or just find a new way of managing it? Whatever your goals, happy customers are key to your success
In this article you will learn:
What is CRM?
You may already know that CRM stands for customer relationship management. But what does that mean exactly? CRM is simply the strategy businesses use to keep their customers happy and coming back.
In the days before the internet, small business owners could do it all themselves. Customers would pop into your shop, so it was easy to get to know their preferences, make the best recommendations, and take the time to answer their every query.
But that’s not what most small businesses look like today. Still, developing great customer relationships is more important than ever.
|Did you know it’s far less expensive to keep existing customers happy than to chase new ones? And that long-term customers are altogether more valuable?|
Nowadays, businesses of all sizes are using CRM software to give their customers that same friendly, one-to-one customer service, with just their computers and phones. And you don’t need to be a marketing guru or have bags of time and money to use one.
CRM providers give you a 360-degree view of all your customers’ data across one simple interface. This is the basic format, but most of our top picks below have a friendlier feel.
You may already use analytics tools like Google Analytics, marketing automation systems like Hootsuite and perhaps you are already an active merger thanks to MailChimp. But the best CRM software does the legwork for all your analytics, marketing and sales needs for you, and can integrate nicely with your existing platforms.
How does CRM work?
Essentially, CRM systems work by collecting customer data, analysing it to understand their individual needs, and adjusting and automating marketing campaigns to help boost sales.
What data does it need? The most useful data might be your customers’ personal information (so you can personalise your emails to specific groups), or insights pulled from interactions they have had via your website, email and social media (which will help you work out who your biggest fans are, and who might be in need of a bit of attention).
|Research has shown that businesses who create personalised experiences for their customers see their revenues increase by 6% to 10%.|
You and your staff can also save bags of time by automating many of your tasks. Try creating automated email responses for the most common queries, or start tailoring your communications to specific customers. You’re bound to see an uplift in sales.
Why is all this important?
Gone are the days when a person on the end of a phone counted as good customer service. Today people are used to connecting with each other via a number of platforms – and they expect the same of the businesses they use, no matter their size.
Everyone talks about the importance of data. But most people need a bit of help in making the most out of it. This can seem overwhelming for small businesses. But it doesn’t need to be.
Good CRM software takes the hassle out of keeping your customers happy and your sales healthy – and there are plans to suit all needs and budgets, even for when your business grows.
How can CRM help me?
CRM systems use customer data to help you plan the best marketing and sales activities. This means you should:
- Get more emails read by personalising their content
- Save time by automating tasks
- Get to know your customers better by understanding their data
In a nutshell, CRM makes businesses owners happy by driving new and repeat sales.
It keeps your staff happy by helping to streamline their workload. And it makes customers happy by improving the service they receive and their overall experience of your business. All this is the secret to better sales and loyal customers.
5 top tips when choosing your CRM
Your CRM needs will be as unique as your business, and there is no one-size-fits-all provider. But to help you decide which CRM tool is best for you, here are some key questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
- How easy is the software to use?
You don’t have much time to spare. All our picks are easy to learn and use, and we’ve highlighted which ones keep it simple, and which ones have more bells and whistles.
- Is it a team player?
You want to know the CRM system you choose will get on well with the software you are already using. We’ve selected the top options for integration, so the process will be as hassle-free as possible.
- How mobile is it?
You are mobile, and you need your software to be too. Everything on this page is cloud-based (meaning everything can be stored online, and accessed wherever and whenever your staff need it), and comes with a mobile app (to make using CRM easier than ever).
- What’s my budget?
Price is always a big factor when choosing the right CRM provider, especially for start-ups. Below you’ll find the most cost-effective options for all price points to help you get the most out of your budget, and all come with a free trial.
- Will it scale with my business?
However small your business may be now, you’ll want to think about where your CRM system will take you as you grow. To help you avoid starting all over again after a growth spurt, we’ve tracked down the CRM plans which will scale best in the long term.
But how do I pick a CRM provider?
We’ve scoured the CRM landscape to find the top suppliers for start-ups in 2018, and below will explain everything you need to know to pick the one that’s right for you.
Each system is cloud-based (so you can access them from any device, anywhere), and offer a free trial (letting you try before you buy).
But of course, the best way to find out which CRM system is your ideal fit is to talk to suppliers. Simply answer some questions to give us a better idea of what you’re looking for, and we’ll match you with up to four of the suppliers who are the best fit for you.
Compare the top CRM providers out there today
In the current climate, personalisation is key to any successful marketing campaign. Customers want to feel like an individual and require a one-on-one relationship with a brand in order to stay loyal.
But tailoring marketing is tricky in the digital age. It’s not on a face-to-face basis that we come to know our customers, which makes establishing their specific wants and needs a labour-heavy and time consuming task.
A global survey analysing the ‘top organisational barriers to personalisation’ found that 74% of businesses said that ‘too few personal dedicated to personalisation’ was their biggest obstacle when it came to offering a fully individualised brand experience to their customers.
This is where a CRM system comes in. Saving businesses time, money and resource by individualising marketing based on a customer’s previous engagement with the brand.
Here’s how the seven best CRM systems compare in one digestible chunk:
Note: The price points of each CRM system will depend on the plan you opt with. This table shows the minimum and a maximum spend for each system, but for a more detailed price structure, see the individual break down in the below article.
If you already have in mind the CRM providers that most interest you, just click on their name below to jump straight to their section.
|CRM system name:||✅Best for:||❌Not so great at:||Price range:||Conversion:|
|Insightly||Ease of use||Customisability||$0 – $99/ user per month||£0 – £76.45|
|Salesforce||In-depth reporting||Ease of use||£20 – £240/ user per month||n/a||Zoho||Low budget||Customer support||$0 – $99/ user per month||£0 – £76.45|
|SugarCRM||Customisability||Platform integration||$40 – $150/ user per month||£30.89 – £115.83|
|Pipedrive||Sales focus||Intuitive features||£12 – £63/ user per month||n/a|
|HubSpot||Simple set-up||Feature variety||£0 – £41/ user per month||n/a|
|Apptivo||Small business growth||Simple set-up||$0 – $20/ user per month||£15.44|
To speed up the research process, just fill in the form at the top of this page and we can put you in touch with suppliers chosen based on your requirements.
Insightly CRM – is it for me?
With over 1.5 million users worldwide, Insightly is one of the most popular CRM systems around. It’s known as a user-friendly option and is often a favourite for small businesses.
You can access it online, or even on your mobile via its app, and it will integrate well with other online applications like Gmail, MailChimp, and Evernote. Its dashboard provides real-time information and a range of reports, but there is also the option of customising your own.
Overall, Insightly is a solid entry point into the world of CRM.
|Great for: Start-ups wanting to hit the ground running with CRM and grow quickly
Pros: Easy to use, integrates well with other software, good interface, affordable
Cons: Not fully customisable, limited customer care on free version
What can Insightly do?
- Building customer relationships – Discover new connections, plan your sales process, track organisations and partnerships.
- Connecting to apps – Monitor all tools and manage them from one database with email and software integration.
- Accelerating sales – Automate lead capture and generation to streamline and improve processes. Close deals faster and more efficiently.
- Delivering projects – Manage assignments and projects, set schedules and share goals and objectives across teams.
- Being enterprise ready – Safeguard with encryption and backups to ensure that your vital information is protected.
What will Insightly cost me?
Insightly offer CRM plans to match different budgets. In the table below we have included information about each plan, with prices and some specific features.
|$0||$29/user per month||$49/user per month||$99/user per month|
|Introductory package, ideal for a one or two person company.||Segment, communicate and monitor outreach efforts.||Add workflow automation and team security.||Scale your CRM to fit your business needs.|
Read more: Insightly CRM review
Salesforce CRM – is it for me?
Salesforce is one of the oldest players in CRM and is still considered one of the best options for small businesses.
As you would expect, the tools are slick, and integrate nicely with any platforms you are already using. It has a jaw-dropping range of features, giving you the most in-depth insights into your customers.
But even for those who are just finding their feet with CRM, there is also great customer support, an intuitive interface and tutorials to help you make the most of their impressive tools.
And because Salesforce caters for businesses of all sizes, you can be sure it will scale as you grow.
|Great for: Start-ups wanting a slick user experience, scalability and in-depth reporting
Pros: Top-notch reports, integrates with most other tools, very flexible, feature-rich
Cons: Can be tricky to get to grips with
What can Salesforce do?
- Sales – Improve, centralise and automate your sales process to save time and money, and get key insights into your customers.
- Service – Keep your customers happy and coming back with its intuitive and customisable solutions.
- Marketing – Understand your customer journeys better to create personalised marketing communications across all your different channels.
- Apps Builder – Build your own apps with point-and-click tools. Its unified platform means everything scales and integrates well.
What will Salesforce cost me?
|Lightning essentials||Lightning professional||Lightning enterprise||Lightning unlimited|
|£20/user per month||£60/user per month||£120/user per month||£240/user per month|
|Out-of-the-box CRM for up to five users.||Complete CRM for any size team.||Deeply customisable sales CRM for your business.||Unlimited CRM power and support.|
Salesforce CRM products
Salesforce’s CRM product range is expansive and varied to adapt to different customer needs. With everything included – from specialty sales functions to marketing features – it truly can be a one-stop-shop for small to large businesses looking to improve their operations.
The best way to understand what you need is to analyse your teams and to decide what your goals are. If you know that you want to improve sales figures, then this should be included in your decision-making process; likewise, if you know that you want to improve customer retention rates, then you should consider this closely as part of the process too.
Salesforce is able to offer a huge number of plans, with various services designed to match different requirements. Included in their plans are:
- Cloud services – offers expertise, data and innovation.
- Success plans – offers a range of services to suit different goals and objectives.
- Advisory services – provides consultation services to help your small business grow.
These three plans can be perfect for many small businesses, however, there are more options available too – it is important to consider the choices carefully before making a final decision.
Read more: Salesforce CRM UK Review
Zoho CRM – is it for me?
Zoho is a great option for start-ups who want to be up and running in CRM quickly, and are looking for an option that’s simple and affordable.
Most users pick Zoho because it’s reasonably priced, easy to use and very customisable. 2018 has also brought Zoho CRM a makeover, so it is now more user-friendly and powerful than ever.
Rather than struggling with a series of how-to videos, Zoho users have access to a conversational AI assistant, so you can ask it (in everyday language) to find whatever information you need for you.
Zoho gives a lot of bang for a few bucks and is one of the best low-budget CRM providers out there.
|Great for: Start-ups with tight budgets who are after an intuitive way of using data
Pros: Affordable, easy to use
Cons: Customer support can be slow to respond, limited features
What can Zoho CRM do?
- Channels – Merge multiple channels for quick and streamlined conversations with customers.
- Performance – Make things easier for your staff, and improve sales figures with help from advanced platforms.
- Platforms – Use software that can be customised to suit your needs and goals.
- Scale – Zoho’s CRM solution can be scaled as you grow.
What will Zoho CRM cost me?
Zoho offers a range of CRM plans to match different budgets. These plans are designed with different features included, allowing most businesses – including small businesses – to find a plan to suit their requirements.
The table below includes a small side-by-side comparison of the plans that are available from Zoho.
|$0/user per month||$12/user per month||$29/user per month||$49/user per month||$99/user per month|
|Basic CRM, all you need to start your small business.||Standard CRM, including sales forecasting and KPIs.||Standard CRM, with integration and workflow.||Advanced CRM, with custom modules.||Full package, with customisable and tracking options.|
Some of Zoho’s top promises are listed below:
- Channels – merge multiple channels, allowing for quick and streamlined conversations with customers.
- Performance – drive your teams forward and improve sales figures with help from advanced platforms.
- Platforms – use software that can be customised to suit your needs and goals.
- Scale – perfect for small businesses, Zoho’s CRM can be scaled as your operations grows.
As well as traditional CRM, Zoho have also continued to introduce high-value technical functions into their company, with new features like Zia – an AI sales assistant – among their latest developments.
You can read our full review of Zoho CRM here.
SugarCRM – is it for me?
Small businesses love SugarCRM for its low cost. It has a simple user interface, and a range of services to suit many sectors. This makes it ideal for companies with fairly straightforward sales processes, and little need for more complex processes (features like customisation are possible, but come with a learning curve and limited support).
Growth is at the heart of SugarCRM, so it will be difficult for businesses not to grow with this tool. But because it’s open source, you don’t have the support services offered by some of the larger providers.
|Great for: Small businesses who are looking to grow, are budget-conscious and want to keep things simple
Pros: Very cost-effective, full control and customisation of features
Cons: Takes a bit of time to master, can be tricky to integrate with other systems
What can SugarCRM do?
- Enterprise – Adaptable software and systems that can be scaled to suit your small business.
- Sales – Schedule your system, and approach every sale with expertise.
- Customer service – Handle all customer relationships, complaints and workflow efficiently.
- Marketing – Market effectively by integrating systems into one central dashboard.
- Mobile – Mobile CRM from SugarCRM lets you get to work, wherever you are.
What will SugarCRM cost me?
The table below includes some information about SugarCRM’s various plans.
|Sugar Professional||Sugar Enterprise||Sugar Ultimate|
|$40/user per month||$65/user per month||$150/user per month|
|Basic CRM, ideal for growing your small business (15GB storage).||More CRM capabilities, best value for larger businesses (60GB storage).||Most complete CRM, plus highest level of support (250GB storage).|
The five main areas covered by SugarCRM’s products are:
- Enterprise – providing adaptable software and systems that can be scaled to ensure the success of small and large businesses alike.
- Sales – get the most out of each client, and provide them what they need too. Schedule with your system and approach every sale with expertise and resource.
- Customer service – handle all customer relationships with expertise and efficiency. Handle complaints and sales quickly and easily, by optimising workflow with a quality system.
- Marketing – market effectively by integrating systems into one central dashboard. Launch campaigns with confidence.
- Mobile – mobile CRM from SugarCRM lets you monitor and track, wherever you are. Stay connected and ensure quality, from top to bottom.
Pipedrive – is it for me?
Pipedrive is a leader in managing sales opportunities and is designed around activity-based selling. It is a great starter CRM, and its customisable and easy-to-use interface will appeal to small businesses looking to grow.
Don’t be fooled by its modest price tag – this is a powerful sales tool, and takes the pain out of managing sales and related activities. There are also a number of out-of-the-box integrations available, making it as easy as possible to adapt the software to your sales and marketing strategies.
|Great for: Sales pros and sales-focused start-ups
Pros: Slick sales management, great integration with other software, high-level reporting
Cons: Not so intuitive, limited non-sales features
What can Pipedrive do?
- Pipeline management – Stay on top of all your deals with a clear visual interface.
- Email integration – Start sending and receiving emails from their platform to keep everything in one place.
- Activities and goals – Reminders, notifications and alerts help to stop things falling through the cracks.
- Sales reporting – See where you’re losing sales, and spot ways of tweaking your approach.
- Sales forecasting – Forecast revenue, and pick the deals that are most likely to close.
- Mobile apps – Work from anywhere with Android and iPhone apps.
What will Pipedrive cost me?
The table below includes some information about Pipedrive’s various plans.
|£12/user per month||£24/user per month||£63/user per month|
|Everything you need to create a clear sales process and get your team organised.||Optimise your sales process to spend less time on admin and have more sales conversations.||Manage teams, track performance, and adjust course when needed.|
HubSpot – is it for me?
It isn’t easy to find a great all-in-one provider that is absolutely free, but HubSpot is one of the best here.
CRM Free is not a trial – it’s free forever, but there are add-on services for when your business grows: Marketing Hub (£0-£655 / month) and Sales Hub (£0-£333 / month).
HubSpot is ideal for small businesses with limited business development and marketing resources, whereas fast-growing companies might find they soon outgrow its capabilities.
HubSpot is known as a one-stop platform for organising, tracking and nurturing your customers and potential customers, and a great option for businesses looking to target specific persona groups with their sales and marketing campaigns.
|Great for: Businesses who are ticking along nicely, and want a CRM software that’s free and will stay free
Pros: Free forever, simple to set up, a doddle to use
Cons: Risk of outgrowing its capabilities, limited features
What can HubSpot do?
- Marketing automation – Integrate all the data you have on your current and potential customers into a workflow which helps you take the best care of them.
- Email marketing – Create templated and customised emails, with automatic shifting, scheduling and robust reporting.
- Social media marketing – Get basic social media contact and tracking capabilities.
- Lead management – Market more efficiently with communications tailored to your customers.
- Reporting and metrics – Understand your customers better with customised reports.
- Site keyword tool – Help your pages rank better on search engines, by comparing you with your competition, and suggesting ways to improve.
What will HubSpot cost me?
The table below includes some information about HubSpot’s various plans.
|£0/user per month||£27/user per month||£41/user per month|
|Out-of-the-box CRM for up to five users.||Complete CRM for any size team.||Deeply customisable sales CRM for your business.|
Apptivo – is it for me?
Apptivo is a cloud-based system of applications, specifically aimed at small businesses. It is also one of the most affordable CRM options on the market.
Unlike some other CRM suppliers, with Apptivo you get access to its entire platform of 40 apps (covering key areas like CRM, Project Management, and Invoicing) included in the monthly price.
It uses a graphic-heavy dashboard, which makes data management less intimidating for the less tech-savvy user, and they specialise in a range of fields, from financials to human resources and supply chain management.
|Great for: Small businesses not wanting to fork out too much on CRM just yet, but keen to grow
Pros: Very responsive support, plenty of features
Cons: Can take a bit of work to get it set up
What can Apptivo do?
- Marketing – Create targeted lists of contacts, build email marketing campaigns, and track analytics.
- Sales – Complete CRM capability with robust contact management, sales pipeline, automation, and reporting.
- Help Desk – A powerful ticketing system with email integration, web portal, and time tracking.
- Project Management – Manage project schedules via gantt charts, track time and milestones, and invoice for effort spent.
- Field Service – Work order assignment and dispatching, mobile photo, time, and materials capture, and billing.
- Quoting and Billing – Build professional quotes and email them to customers with integrated billing and recurring invoice capabilities.
- Order Management – Turn quotes into orders, track inventory and shipments, and bill your customers for products purchased.
- Procurement and Supply Chain – Manage vendors, track purchase orders and invoicing, and manage inventory.
What will Apptivo cost me?
The table below includes some information about Apptivo’s various plans.
|£0/user per month||$8/user per month||$20/user per month||$2Flexible|
|Ideal for three users, basic contact sharing and standard reports.||Offers 3GB/user, mass emails, third-party services integration and 24/7 support.||Great for 10GB/user, 3,000 emails/user, third-party services integration and 24/7 priority support.||Perfect for growing businesses with unique requests.|
Small business CRM software
Small business CRM software offers a range of features that can significantly improve both internal and external processes. Many of the benefits have been repeated across the suppliers listed above, but should not be forgotten.
- Service – CRM services allow small businesses to manage customer relationships. As small businesses often have fewer resources than larger competitors, being able to manage the whole process using a CRM system can be a huge benefit.
- Sales – Improving sales is an almost ubiquitous goal, with every business having to hit targets in one way or another. Employing a CRM system can help your business to hit these targets every month.
- Collaborate – With a quality CRM system, your team can stay focused, with tasks managed centrally and easily. Never fall behind again with task management, workflows and auto-assign features.
The main benefit of small business CRM software though, is probably the versatility on offer and the adaptability that it provides. Being able to manage systems effectively relies on strong processes – a good CRM helps your business to create, develop and maintain these processes.
Small business CRM features
Many of the most common small business CRM features have already been mentioned throughout this page, however it is important to remember them in order to fully appreciate the benefit that a customer relationship management system could have for your operations.
The list below includes some of the top features, with more information about each included further down the page.
A CRM database allows businesses to track a range of things. Data can come in many forms, and a CRM system offers analytics that can help your small business to monitor and manage information effectively.
The sort of data that can be tracked varies by system, but some of the most common forms of information include:
- Customer information
- Sales figures
- Team information
- Goals and targets
- Business information
The type of data included in your CRM will depend on the plan you have opted for, and also on the information you need.
Cloud-based systems have become more popular in almost every sector and form of technology, CRM is no different, with cloud-based CRM systems quickly becoming the ordinary choice for small and large businesses alike.
Cloud-based simply means that a whole system can be stored and accessed online – this frees up space within your own organisation, and allows for ease-of-use, wherever or whenever you need to use your customer relationship management system. And best of all, it’s a more affordable option.
CRM sales software
Sales is one of the key targets for any commercial business. Without sales – whether that be services or products – a business simply cannot continue operating.
A good CRM system will help small businesses to improve sales processes, adding efficiency and value in a huge range of areas. The sales software involved in many CRM systems can help to improve workflows, schedule calls or appointments, manage sales once they have been completed and track revenue.
Most modern sales-teams use CRM software to manage their processes – as a small business, it can be an excellent way to make sure you stay ahead of your competition.
CRM customer management
Customer management comes in many forms, with sales, complaints and assistance among a number of services that need to be handled efficiently in order to please paying clients.
A CRM system can significantly improve a small business’ ability to manage customer processes. Unlike large businesses, where there are often whole teams dedicated to customer service, small businesses will often have to make do with fewer staff – a CRM system can help to streamline this process.
Understanding your customers’ needs and requirements can be difficult, with a CRM system though, you can help your staff to get better at it. Various features allow for automated services to improve customer retention, by scheduling calls automatically, providing information or feedback without the need for human input, as well as in several other ways.
Email is one of the processes that benefits most from a quality CRM system. With customer relationship management software you can automate processes that have, in the past, hampered marketing or sales efforts.
Employing email-based CRM can help to speed up and improve a huge range of tasks. Send bulk emails, automate replies for common queries, send receipts or instructions. The possibilities for email CRM are varied and can be a huge benefit in small business.
Break it down for me
Small business CRM software delivers a host of benefits – not just to your customers, but also to your bottom line, and even helps your staff work better.
Here are the main areas where you’ll see results with CRM:
- Better service for your customers – Of course, improving customer relationships is at the heart of CRM – just as it will be key to driving sales. By managing your customer interactions over a single, easy-to-use interface, no one will get left behind.
- More sales – Who doesn’t want a sales boost? CRM can help your business plan for, hit, and even grow your sales targets each month.
- More productive staff – With quality CRM software, your team can stay focused, and task management features will help your team work smarter.
But the main benefit of CRM for small businesses is the versatility it offers you. The right CRM system for you will make managing customer relationships a walk in the park.
Compare small business CRM quotes
The information on this page should help you to understand what benefit a small business CRM system can offer. With a huge range of features and services available, almost any business can improve their processes using a customer relationship management program.
The best way to find out about CRM though, is to speak to suppliers today – Startups can help with this. By completing the form at the top of this page, we can put you in touch with up to four small business CRM providers who can offer quotes and plans based on your specific requirements.
Comparing quotes with Startups is free, quick and easy, and it could help to save your business both time and money.