Nearly Endless OptionsThere are seemingly endless options for CRM software in the market today. Salesforce is by far the most mature, as they built the very first cloud-based CRM system back in 1999. Since then, the market has seen a number of new entrants in this space – Many provide simple, out-of-the-box interfaces intended for small to midsize business with little budget for development/customizations.
Overview: Feedback From 20 UsersI reached out to 20 business owners and power users of CRM software to learn why they picked their CRM, and their favorite features for their chosen tool. This is a summary of what I found:
- Aligned to Existing Business Process. Virtually everyone agreed that alignment to existing processes was critical. The CRM should simply provide a framework for managing customers in a manner that is aligned with your way of doing business. Each of these tools works a little different, so it’s important to see how they work and make sure it accommodates the processes in place in your sales team.
- Integrations. The majority of users really value integrations with their existing software, whether it is G suite applications or existing accounting software. Many chose their CRM for the simple reason that it worked with their existing applications.
- Simple vs Customized. I noted that small or midsize businesses typically valued simple interfaces, even though this often comes at the cost of limited customization. Businesses with larger sales teams more frequently opted for CRM tools that enabled scalability and customization, like Salesforce. In contrast, smaller businesses elected for tools that worked well out of the box.
1. Streak CRM: Integration with Gmail
We use Streak CRM – It ties directly in with Gmail – no need for a 2nd tab or learning new software – it’s all right there in our Gmail.
Key Tip: The mail merge (mass send emails) feature is gold. It helps us reach out to new prospects easily, saves us tons of time, and
makes following up a breeze.
2. Freshworks: AI-Powered CRM
Freshworks is an AI-powered CRM that will enable any sales professionals and business owners to have a holistic view of a customer’s shopping behavior.
Why We Love It: When I started using Freshworks, I was spoon-fed with the right insights at a perfect timing in each touchpoint. To be precise, it has a complete end-to-end formula not only in building a robust customer relationship but in improving your team’s overall sales process as well. It’ll enable you to automate your new leads’ onboarding process.
Pros: For startups and small businesses, it’s a great entry point as it has a plan available that’s free – forever. With its feature that allows you to separate contacts from leads, building a good sales pipeline is ensured. Among all, Freshworks CRM delivers an overall “fresh” experience and I will never hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
That being said, it is essential to get the most out of your CRM software. And once you put your CRM at the center of your marketing tactics, a long-lasting customer relationship will be formed. With it, approaching a customer the way they expect you to be will never be a mystery anymore.
3. Agile CRM: Affordable and Simple
We chose Agile CRM because of its affordability, ease of use and a Linkedin widget that syncs with the CRM with LI and lets us add contacts via their LI.
This CRM has a very generous free plan that allows us to add up to 10 users and offers an array of features for sales and marketing in the free plan. The paid plans start for a reasonable price of $15 per user which is perfect for small businesses.
Pros: We didn’t always use CRM. However, we felt a real business need to keep the various information points related to our prospects, leads and clients organized and to work with a sales pipeline. After using the CRM for the past 6 months or so, our sales process has become more efficient as no information is lost and the sales/revenue dashboard helps us visualize our current standing better. We are also able to make us use of the automation features to assign scores to leads and recognize quality leads with just a mere glance.
Cons: A CRM is only good if you use it! If a CRM has many features that you don’t need, it can be overwhelming. Also, you need to be consistent about updating it – we update every Monday morning.
In our industry, it is not very common to use a CRM as digital agencies are usually small and most of the sales and marketing process is maintained using spreadsheets. However, after seeing the benefits of CRM, I would highly recommend it to others in our industry. If you want to scale your business, a good CRM tool will be your friend forever!
4. Dubsado: Efficient and Consistent
I selected Dubsado as our CRM platform. This allows for management of our customers, contracts, communications, scheduling and more. Having everything in one place, with client portal access for our customers, keeps business running in a consistent and efficient manner.
We wanted an option where we could manage client contacts, allow scheduling capabilities, draft & e-sign contracts, collect & manage documents and create automated workflows as our business matures. Dubsado offers all of these capabilities and more for an affordable price. We were also able to trial the platform with a limited number of customers for free.
Dubsado offers training and support for their customers through online webinars, demos and a support desk. As a newer platform, they are actively working on new & improved functionality as well as integrations to popular tools such as Zoom and Google Meet. While we have elected to invoice through our accounting platform and would like to develop process automation with more complex business rules, we do see value in, and expect further development of the existing functionality. Additional reporting capabilities and unique data capture would also be beneficial as we continue to expand.
5. 17hats: Streamlined Approach
I use 17hats for my CRM. 17hats is a small business CRM platform
marketed to solopreneurs that lets you organize and systemize calendars, contacts, and invoices, It has all the features I need to work with my web design and SEO clients. I chose this platform mainly for the way it handles client leads, quotes, contracts, and invoices. I wanted a streamlined approach.
I would recommend 17hats to other web designers. It’s been a great tool to keep my business organized.
6. Copper: Integrates with G Suite
Copper is a popular CRM system used by over 10,000 SMBs that I’ve used and recommend. The platform comes with the necessary CRM features – sending emails, scheduling meetings, automating processes, workflow automation and reporting. Copper differentiates itself as the only CRM system that lives natively in G Suite.
If you use G Suite, you then benefit from the ability to complete tasks such as updating contacts & creating events directly from Gmail. In addition, Copper is very affordable – its cheapest plan stores 30,000 contacts for only $19 per month.
7. Clio Suite: Legal Focus
I currently use Clio Manage and Clio Grow (the Clio Suite) for my
case management needs. Both programs are very beneficial for use in law firms.
What I Love: Clio grow, which is the client intake software, allows you to send electronic intake sheets, create workflows and send automated emails to clients. Clio grow also allows email campaigns to be created. Clio Manage manages case files, tracks time spent on each case and allows clients to login and make payments or upload documents to their file 24/7. I chose Clio because of its ease of use, customer support and features.
Cons: Right now, it does not allow text messaging to clients to remind them of upcoming appointments or court dates. One pro is that the programs have tons of integrations with other programs like Mailchimp and LawPay.
8. ActiveCampaign: Email Marketing
Our CRM of choice is ActiveCampaign. For us, and most of the small business clients we work with, it’s important to have a CRM that’s combined with a rock solid email marketing and automation platform. That’s what ActiveCampaign provides along with visitor website tracking, live chat, SMS marketing, and more.
Having an all-in-one platform with affordable pricing versus piecing together various platforms makes life so much easier and makes our marketing and communication so much more effective.
9. Hubspot: Robust and Economical
Hubspot is our preferred choice for a robust, economical CRM solution. Hubspot offers a free tier that includes many of the same features included in higher tiers such as Email sending, Contact & Company management, and Task logging. Once you add Hubspot tracking code to your website, you’re also able to utilize features such as chatflows to add a chatbot to your homepage.
If your website has any forms, the tracking code will automatically create Contacts from new submissions and alert your company’s users with an email reminder. The Hubspot Gmail plugin lets you track email opens and utilize pre-defined templates and canned responses when sending emails. All of these features are easy to implement and provide high value to small businesses with minimal setup involved. And again, all of these features are included within the free tier.
10. Honeybook: Wedding Planning
CRM for photographers and wedding pros: One of the best decisions I made in my first year of business as an elopement photographer was investing in a great CRM tailored to my industry.
I started using Honeybook about 4 years ago – I didn’t know then that my business would skyrocket, but when it did I was so glad to have a program that scaled with my needs. Honeybook is tailored to wedding professionals in subtle ways that don’t compromise your brand message.
Each client gets their own password protected workspace so they can log in to review their vendor recommendations, planning details or files at any point. I’ve got all my projects on a six month “workflow” that automates the planning and check-in emails the clients get before their event, as well as internal task reminders for my team on a project by project basis.
Proposals, contracts and invoices and an absolute snap, and you have the option to turn on gentle late payment reminders for past due invoices. One of my favorite features this year was the ability to code rescheduled and cancelled events as “affected by Covid-19”, which was useful for my end of year comparison to previous years. I would highly recommend Honeybook to any wedding photographers, planners, florists, etc., but also to any creatives who take on clients with succinct date-based projects.
11. Hubspot: Ease of Use
HubSpot has a robust functionality and simplicity that appealed to me. I particularly liked that it had a strong marketing functionality that allowed us to utilize it as a centralized cloud-based database to impart a synchronized message across multiple marketing platforms.
HubSpot is easy to use and offers a great start up package for small businesses that makes it much more affordable than comparable CRMs. It does still have a steep learning curve, though I feel it’s easier to learn than others, the cost is still high for small businesses, and because it’s more sales, marketing, and service focused I feel it doesn’t have as much fungibility outside of those functions.
It has allowed us to get up to speed quickly and manage our customers cross-departmentally from our desktops, laptops, and even with our mobile devices through their app. Having access to our customers from wherever we are has been instrumental for our team. HubSpot has been a great CRM solution for our business and I’d recommend it to any B2B or B2C business that wants to centralize their client data and integrate sales and marketing functionality.
12. Groundhogg: Self-Hosted CRM
We use Groundhogg. It is made for WordPress and therefore its seamless integration is epic. Groundhogg is a self-hosted CRM, which means you own your own data. It has almost the same functionality as its SaaS counterparts such as Infusionsoft/Keap, Active Campaign and so on.
It’s smooth integration with your other favorite plugins is beautiful. If no integration exists, you can use their webhooks or via API. The value proposition is enormous, you get true marketing automation along with options like calendar, multi-site white-label or multi-licence.
There are no limits on the number of contacts or users you can have. In other words, you don’t get charged more every time your list grows. The icing on the cake is its pricing. You can’t beat it. The core plugin is Free in the WordPress Repository. Marketing pros or agencies will want to look at the Pro or Agency Plan pricing.
It doesn’t yet have quoting features, but Groundhogg 3.0 set for release at the end of Q1 may just surprise us with this feature.
13. Salesforce: Scalability
We chose Salesforce mostly for its scalability, customization and the email capabilities – tracking and “drip” campaigns. The latter allows us to create email sequences for various use cases, from marketing to onboarding campaigns.
One of the biggest pros of Salesforce are the infinite customization options and automation within the platform. For some, this will be a con – to make it truly yours will take a lot of time and effort. It can also be a trap for creative people, as there’s hardly anything you can’t do, so you may end up with clever automations that are over the top and ultimately not efficient.
Integrations suffer from the same benefits and issues, especially as Salesforce introduced their own programming language, Apex. This made alternative APIs almost obsolete. Some of them are, to an extent, supported by the community – but there’s no guarantee they will work for you. The entry level for external integrations is much, much higher (and more expensive) compared to most alternatives. With that said, I’d definitely recommend Salesforce if you can take full advantage of the advanced features.
14. Creatio: Customer Service
We use a slightly lesser known system called Creatio. We had previously used an open source system and prior to that, Salesforce. We were looking for a system that would allow for some customization around our established business process, could sync with our other core systems such as accounting and quote generation, was not overly complex nor extremely expensive.
Good customer service and an established network of developers who can support the system are both very important factors to consider. This is why big companies favor big companies. We are lucky that we chose a mid-size supplier who grew with us.
If there’s one lesson we’ve learned over the years, successful CRM implementation is about having clear, documented business rules. If you don’t have those down, no CRM software is going to save you.
15. Salesforce: Scalable Infrastructure
Salesforce takes your business to the next level. It’s a customer relationship management software that instantly streamlines and automates your business processes.
What we Love: By creating infrastructure-as-a-service, your business allows sales, marketing, and support teams to work in sync and see important sales and customer experience data with more width and breadth.
Key Benefits: There are various benefits associated with it. First of all, the customer information that you get is both qualitatively and quantitatively good. You can access your customer’s details such as contact info, task, event, account, etc. Also, time management becomes important. You will benefit from its organizational tools like reminders, calendars, and scheduling checks, to-do items, account planning options, etc.
16. Airtable: Customizable (and free)
We use Airtable for three main reasons: it’s free, completely customizable, and allows us to automate everything.
We are very small, just my co-founder and me, and we are bootstrapped, so the free version is very appealing to us. We started with a template but have since built it into something that fits our workflow perfectly.
Why We Love It: We can automate pretty much all our tasks using the Zapier integration. For example, email data gets automatically added, automated slack reminders tell us when we need to followup or touch base, and weekly reports get sent showing our progress. These are just of few of the automation we use, but really anything is possible.
Notable Features: Airtable has native surveys that can be easily embedded into landing pages or sent via email. The formula functionality and linking let you connect information very effectively, making it easy to keep organized and quickly find things. The kanban board lets you easily track where people are in a sales pipeline. Views make it easy to show only the most relevant information to certain people. For example, you could have a temp doing data input, but you don’t want them to see sales numbers or contact info. It’s easy to make sure they can only see what they need to see.
Cons: The only con, is that you cannot reference specific cells. This makes it hard to implement certain formulas and have running totals.
Summary: I would absolutely recommend airtable to people in all industries. Our entire business is run through the platform. When you couple it with something like Zapier, the possibilities are limitless. I don’t see any reason why we’d ever switch, even as we scale. In fact, the more we grow, the more useful it becomes.
17. Trello: Simplified Collaboration
We use Trello, traditionally used for project management, as our CRM. I have used Salesforce and Hubspot in the past, but our needs are more simple and those systems seemed to complicate our process.
Why We Love It: With Trello, we can add a CRM template and collaborate right alongside the projects that we manage as well. So we can track customers and projects all one roof. It serves us incredibly well.
18. 1CRM: Numerous Integrations
EPT Clean Oil selected 1CRM as our complete operations solution due
largely, at first, to its integration with QuickBooks.
With QuickBooks in place as our company accounting solution, it was only logical to establish a partnership with a CRM that could simultaneously communicate, ensuring our records were accurate and synchronized.
Why we Love It: We have taken full advantage of the CRM offering, integrating with it both a phone solution (Ring Central) and marketing automation solution (Lead Guerilla). While it is a daily learning curve, the overall benefits, documentation and holistic reporting available is outstanding.
We highly recommend 1CRM to businesses – small, medium and large. The capabilities are incredible and allows for streamlined automation of business processes, reporting and customer engagement.
19. Hubspot CRM System: Features
We use HubSpot as our CRM provider for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all, for the abundance of features their platform offers. My favorite feature among these is their sales email automation. This
feature allows you to send one-to-one emails to customers through your chosen Gmail account effortlessly. You can blast tailored messages with specialized marketing content, and automatically log interactions and responses. This helps nurture leads and close deals.
In addition, we also use and love HubSpot’s meeting scheduler. The
meetings you schedule with HubSpot sync to your Google and Outlook
calendars, so team members and leads can always see your most up-to-date availability. This greatly reduces the time our team spends on unnecessary back-and-forth emails both internally and externally. This feature is a great alternative to Calendly, and saves us from having to add on another SaaS recurring fee.
20. Salesforce: Customizable
I chose Salesforce because of its ability to integrate with several tools used by our organization including Outlook, Cliently, and PandaDoc, which saves our team considerable time.
Why We Love It: The fact that Salesforce is completely customizable has been essential to my company because I work in the logistics industry which has a very diverse client population. I would recommend this CRM software to others in my industry because it has streamlined processes greatly within my company.
It offers scalability, endless reporting, customization, and many integrations that make customer relationship management much easier and much more efficient.
Customer Relationship Management: Lifeblood of Your Business
While CRM software vendors may focus on splashy features of their CRM software, never forget that the primary goal of any CRM software is to make the most of your customer interactions. It should help you optimize lead management, organize all customer contacts in one place, and automate repeated data entry tasks. Your sales team should be focused on meeting customer needs, and spend less time hunting down email addresses or phone numbers on post-it notes. Said differently, your CRM should first and foremost be a customer-centric platform. If it fails at this, nothing else matters.
Social Media Integration
Nearly every business maintains at least some presence on social media, and this will likely only intensify in the coming years. Select a CRM software that incorporates customer interactions across the major social media channels. Even if you don’t utilize social media in your business today, it is likely you will rely heavily on these platforms in the future.
Each Business Has Unique Needs
There is no one-size-fits-all CRM solution. The sales and marketing teams in each business will have their own unique style and sales process. If we learn anything from these users, it is that CRM software should be aligned with how your sales teams already operates. Most of the popular CRM applications provide a free trial for new customers – Before you get started on a full scale roll out, you can first test it with actual customer data.
By aligning the tool with your existing processes, you will get greater adoption among sales associates, less interruption in your existing sales cycle, and will close more deals.