Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a strategy to manage interactions with customers and potential customers. It is very popular, two thirds of sales organisations now use CRM software.
Customer Relationship Management software. That name is surprisingly close to what a CRM does. CRM software is used for managing relationships with your customers. In a decade, CRM has grown into the world’s largest software market worth over $50bn.
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Work OS with a lightweight CRM built-in. Manage everything from sales and marketing to IT and software development.Go to site
Sales CRM that's easy to set up and use. With powerful sales automation, task management, lead qualification and tracking.Go to site
An all-in-one software suite to manage marketing, sales, service, and projects. Free forever with 100MB of storage.Go to site
All-in-one CRM platform with marketing, sales, and service tools including automation at affordable prices. Free for up to 15 users.Go to site
Easy-to-use and affordable sales force automation platform for medium-sized businesses. 21-day free trial.Go to site
Hubspot's core CRM is entirely free. You only pay if you need to add extra sales or marketing modules.Go to site
Convenient all-in-one sales CRM and marketing software. It’s great value and has an impressive ‘free forever’ plan.Go to site
CRM software provides useful data about your customers. Knowing your customers better means better service and happier customers. Happier customers mean more sales.
Today’s best CRM tools are far from the techy platforms they used to be. The best CRMs are slick, cloud-based applications that are big on presentation and usability.
CRM pulls customer data from all the other digital channels your business uses. It gives you a complete 360-degree view of your customers, all in one place.
The best CRM systems use reporting on your sales and marketing campaigns. They tell sales teams when to push the right offer to the right people at the right time. They help support desks provide a more efficient, responsive service. They automate workflows and help teams achieve more with less input.
7 biggest benefits of CRM
1. More efficient customer service
Every customer wants to be helped quickly. It’s frustrating to have a call passed around departments. Or to repeat your question over and over. It wastes everybody’s time.
CRMs record every customer interaction. When a customer gets in touch again, an agent can quickly find all relevant information in the CRM. Customer service agents resolve issues faster and in term have more time to spend with a customer – actually helping them instead of looking up basic information.
2. Increase in sales
Every interaction with a customer leaves clues about who they are and what they like. Every action, from browsing your website to making an inquiry, creates data. A CRM platform vacuums it all up.
From this data, a CRM system can tell you things like how ready or likely a customer is to buy. It helps you tailor your sales processes to different people and different channels. It tells you what works for customers at different stages of their journey. The result is more closed sale deals.
3. Improved customer retention
Keeping customers costs less and takes less time than finding new customers.
A CRM system tells you what your customers like and dislike. Every abandoned cart, every unfavourable review leaves clues about why they were unhappy. With those insights, you can cut out the things that push customers away.
Happy customers stick around longer. That’s why 82% of users rate ‘active customer retention’ as one of the biggest benefits of using CRM software.
75% of customers say personalised content makes them more likely to repurchase. 71% of people now expect personalised interactions. 76% get frustrated when it doesn’t happen.
Personalisation makes a big difference to business performance. The fastest growing companies get 40% more revenue from personalisation.
To personalise marketing, sales or service, you need to know your customers. CRM is the driving force behind personalisation in the modern business.
5. Accurate analytics
Data is rarely one-dimensional. And you can use data in multiple ways. A CRM platform collects data about your customers. But that doesn’t mean it can only be used for customer insight.
The wealth of data your CRM collects and stores is ripe for use for wider business intelligence. As already mentioned, you can use it to analyse and improve your sales processes. You can track performance of marketing campaigns. You can measure service against agreed metrics.
Top CRM systems come packed with analytics tools that turn data into valuable business insights.
6. Better knowledge sharing
Sales, marketing and service teams often share the same goals. They want high sales and happy, loyal customers. Sharing information helps to achieve those goals.
CRM software makes it easier to share information across your business. It breaks down silos and helps everyone pull in the same direction.
7. Greater transparency
Better knowledge sharing leads to better collaboration. In turn, this creates a spirit of togetherness and shared purpose.
With a CRM, information is automatically available and transparent. Different teams can better understand what the other does and how they help one another.
How CRM Works
At the core of a CRM system is a customer database. But CRM goes way beyond storing basic personal details.
CRM software records details of all customer interactions. Phone calls, email, live chat, social media, and even visits to your website. Signing up for loyalty schemes or newsletters. Clicking ads. Making a purchase. This is the main reason why the biggest challenge in CRM use is manual data entry.
A CRM platform captures data from them all.
This data is then made available across your organization. It provides a single point of visibility. It helps to make operations more streamlined and integrated. Most importantly, it puts the knowledge of your customers at the heart of everything.
The core functionality of CRM
All CRM vendors try to make their platforms a bit unique, But there are a core set of features that any modern CRM system worth its salt should have. It’s these core CRM tools that deliver the biggest benefits.
1. Omnichannel integration
CRM systems used to be very phone focused. When sales and service teams were run from call centres, a main purpose of a CRM was to log and track call data.
Phone/voice remains a key part of the CRM mix. But customers use so many more channels these days. Email, live chat, SMS, web push notifications, social media – these all need to be included.
This matters if you want a complete view of the customer experience. It also makes managing customer relationships simpler and more efficient. For example, the best modern CRMs let you send emails and run email marketing campaigns from within the platform. These built-in tools are often on the level of standalone email marketing platforms.
The same applies to making a voice call, launching a live chat session, posting to social media. The more you can do from the CRM, the more information you can share. And you can be consistent in your approaches across channels.
2. Cloud-based CRM
Like lots of business software, early CRM platforms were big, heavyweight programmes. They had to be run from a particular machine or server group. You had to be on that machine or in that office to use them.
Nowadays, agility and accessibility are everything in CRM. Cloud-based CRM systems mean you can use them from any web browser. Mobile CRMs mean you can manage customer relationships on the move.
A customer database is one thing. Using customer data to deliver a better customer experience is a second.
Analytics is what makes personalisation possible. It helps focus attention on the strongest and most valuable leads. And it lets you track sales, marketing and service performance in real time.
That means you can adjust activity as you go along to increase the chances of success. Or identify what works and repeat it in the future.
Data also drives automation. CRM automation comes in three main flavours. Marketing automation, sales force automation and service automation.
Automation makes workflows more efficient and responsive. It lightens the burden on staff and cuts out human error. Using data-led automation, you shouldn’t ever miss a lead or opportunity.
5. Innovations in CRM
As technology keeps evolving, we’re starting to see more and more innovations in CRM. In particular, we’re seeing CRM systems make use of AI to take analytics and automation up a notch.
With Machine Learning, CRM is becoming more efficient and powerful. Over time, the systems ‘learn’ the best ways to optimise workflows. They get better at predicting customer behaviour, making recommendations that drive more conversions. They take control of more decision-making, boosting automation.
We’re also seeing CRMs use AI to make more and more data sources available. For example, Natural Language Processing technology can now analyse spoken and written words. Information from phone calls and emails doesn’t have to be added to the customer database manually. AI can pull out relevant data and save it automatically.
A Short History of CRM
Some people claim that the history of CRM can be traced back to the invention of the Rolodex in the 1950s. A Rolodex is a rotating index card file. They became popular with salespeople for recording customer details. A long way from the advanced software CRMs we have today, sure. But the general principle is the same. Recording information about customers to aid your sales processes.
Others argue that the origins of ‘true’ CRM date back to the 1980s and the emergence of database marketing. Database marketing used analytics to predict how customers would respond to marketing campaigns.
The first purpose-built contact management software emerged in the late 1980s. In the early 90s, software that combined database marketing and contact management arrived. Nowadays, we’d recognise these products as a basic form of CRM. But at the time they went by the name sales force automation (SFA).
The phrase customer relationship management was allegedly coined in 1995. Gradually, SFA products evolved and became known as customer relationship management systems. The market leader at the time was Siebel Systems Inc. The first edition of Siebel CRM hit the market in 1995.
After that, demand for CRM software exploded. By the late 90s and early 2000s, some of the biggest names in CRM we still recognise today had arrived on the scene. Oracle CRM arrived in 1998, SAP CRM in 2000. Microsoft began marketing CRM platforms in the early 2000s. Microsoft Dynamics was launched in 2006.
Perhaps the biggest moment of all was when Salesforce launched its first edition CRM in 1999. Salesforce was an early ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) cloud pioneer. It featured a web-based interface decades before that became the standard for CRMs.
Another landmark came in 2004 with the arrival of SugarCRM, the first open source CRM. Open source means allowing other developers to use programme code under licence. Along with cloud technology, this paved the way for the huge explosion in CRM providers in the 2010s.
Instead of having to start from scratch building a CRM platform, developers can now use open source code as a starting point. This has sped up innovation, allowing developers to respond quickly to trends like social media and mobile. The SaaS model has also allowed CRM systems to become more agile, easier to run and simpler to use. They are also much cheaper than earlier legacy platforms.
The result is the booming market in specialised cloud-based CRM we see today. Whatever your market, whatever the size of your company, whatever your budget, there’s a CRM for you. You can also take your pick from CRM systems designed for specific tasks.
Types of CRMs
Sales is a complex but critical area of any business. Whether you’re B2C or B2B, your objectives are broadly the same. Growth depends on increaing the number of sales and maximising revenue per sale.
Sales CRMs are designed to smooth out complex sales processes. They focus on improving visibility and data sharing across teams with analytics to help prioritise activity. And they use automation to make workflows efficient and sales activity better targeted.
Key features to look for in a sales CRM include:
- Lead tracking and scoring: Lead tracking involves logging data about your contacts’ behaviour across channels. Analytics then use this data to ‘score’ which prospects are hot and which are not. The idea is that you can focus your efforts on the strongest leads. This is often called opportunity management. It helps drive more conversions and higher revenues per sale.
- Sales pipelines: Sales pipelines visualise your sales processes. They show you all the stages customers move through on their way to making a purchase. Visualising is understanding, so this alone gives you more power to influence the sales journey. The best tools will also allow you to automate sales pipelines.
- Proposal & Quotation Management: Proposal management features offer pipeline-like visualisations for plotting timelines and finance tools for calculating costs. Quotation management tools help prepare quotes based on desired margins. Some automate the process using previous quotations to calculate new offers quickly.
- Account Management: B2B sales teams often operate client accounts. Account management CRM tools make sure all account data is gathered in one place. They include B2B-specific tools like invoice, credit and contract tracking.
Monday.com is a lot more than just a CRM. It describes itself as a Work Operating System, or Work OS. It lets users create their own custom workspaces for dozens of different functions.
Monday’s unique sell is that it offers hundreds of templates for building ‘boards’. A board is a digital workspace. Templates are visual, easy to navigate and fully customizable using a drag-and-drop interface.
This gives sales teams the flexibility to shape their CRM to fit how they work. CRM-specific templates and boards include sales pipelines, tracking marketing activities, customer onboarding, and sales enablement. On top of that, there are customizable analytics dashboards and automation workflows. Another standout feature is the customer timeline view. This lets you track all interactions with customers over time.
Monday.com offers integrations with over 50 popular business apps. This includes direct integrations with email providers like Gmail and Outlook. You can connect to Zapier, which opens the door to 4000 more apps. And you can even connect to other CRMs like Salesforce, Pipedrive, Zendesk and Hubspot.
The free forever plan is for up to two users. On this, you can build unlimited boards with a choice of 200+ templates.
Price-wise, Monday.com is very affordable. Paid plans start at $8 per user per month, with at least three users. So $24 a month. This gives you access to unlimited sales pipelines and contacts. Plus lead, contact, and deal management. You also get full mobile CRM via dedicated apps for iOS and Android.
If you want sales analytics and integrations, you have to upgrade. The standard plan costs $10 per user per month for three users.
Pipedrive is a great choice for smaller sales teams. It’s user-friendly, has good value for money, and scales as your operations grow.
One of its stand-out features is that it lets you build lots of sales pipelines on all plans. Many rival services restrict users to one or two on cheaper tiers. It’s easy to customize these pipelines to suit your own sales journeys.
Pipedrive has over 250 integrations with third-party apps. Some integrations are free, others you have to pay extra for. 73 are classed as ‘app extensions’. This means the connected apps work inside the Pipedrive platform. These include Zapier, Microsoft Teams, Zendesk, and the project management platform Trello.
Pipedrive has a mobile app for iOS and Android, perfect for remote teams and sales reps on the move. And you can connect to Gmail to access Pipedrive CRM tools from your mailbox.
Pricing starts at £12.50 a month for basic lead, deal, and pipeline management. You have to double that to get email features and marketing automation. And double it again to get integrated calling and sales forecasting. There is no free tier, but you can try Pipedrive for 14 days without charge with full access to all features.
Formerly known as Hatchback, BenchmarkONE is a solid all-around CRM. It has a strong set of sales-focused features.
Chief among these are contact scoring and high-quality deal pipelines. Contact scoring uses data to rate leads and customers as ‘hot’ or otherwise. And deal pipelines use data to suggest the best way to convert leads. The combined effect is smarter sales strategies, higher conversion rates, and increased revenues.
BenchmarkONE offers marketing tools alongside its sales CRM features. These include building and sending email campaigns, marketing automation, and lead generation options. There are integrations to Gmail and Outlook so you can run customer relationship management from your inbox. You can connect to thousands of other apps through Zapier.
The free version has unlimited users, 250 contacts, and 500 emails/month. Feature-wise, it has landing pages, contact management tools, email marketing, and marketing automation.
Paid plans start at €27 with a limit of 500 contacts and 2,500 emails a month. But that only gives you marketing automation, email marketing, and contact management tools. For the full CRM experience, pricing starts at €169. We have a sweet BenchmarkONE deal just for our readers. Get 50% off your first month or sign up for a year and get an additional 10% off your annual plan + 1 month for free if you sign up via this link.
Close is a great CRM for telesales teams. It’s very strong on calling features. Global outbound calling is in every subscription. This includes automatic call logging, pre-recorded voicemail, and predictive dialing. On higher plans, you get call recordings, too.
These are the kind of tools all telesales teams are familiar with. But in most cases, you’d expect to run a dedicated call center system with a CRM plugged into it. The fact that Close offers both together simplifies things. It’s great for small to medium-sized sales teams looking for extra convenience.
Pricing starts at $29 a month, or $25 if you pay annually. For that price, you get 3 users, 2500 leads, and 4000 contacts with email and marketing automation.
There is no free plan. But you can try the service for free for 14 days. Close doesn’t have a full mobile app, just a call tracker that transfers mobile call data to the main system. You can connect third-party services through Zapier.
Dialpad isn’t a CRM in the traditional sense. It’s a business communications platform combining voice, messaging, and meetings. It’s the sort of platform you might want to connect your CRM to so you can make full use of all your contact data.
But Dialpad also offers what it calls customer engagement tools. It has products for customer support, omnichannel engagement, and sales.
Again, Dialpad Sell isn’t exactly a complete sales CRM. In fact, you are encouraged to connect it to your existing CRM. It has integrations available for Salesforce, Hubspot, Kustomer, Zoho CRM, and more.
Dialpad provides a suite of AI-powered tools designed to add value to your CRM processes. This includes targeted prompts, scripts, sentiment analysis, and objection handling. So as a sales agent is speaking with a customer, Dialpad tracks the customer’s level of satisfaction. It will make recommendations for what to say next to increase the chances of conversions. It will make recommendations for upselling and cross-selling, all in real-time.
It automatically produces call transcripts and summaries. Follow-up action points are sent directly to the right agent’s inbox. It provides specialist support for setting up remote teams of agents.
Dialpad starts at $15 a month if you pay annually or $20 if you pay monthly. This includes Google Workspace & Microsoft 365 integrations. But you have to move to a higher tier to get CRM integrations, starting at $25 a month. There’s a 14-day free trial but no free tier.
Marketing and sales can be seen as two halves of the same process. Sales is all about converting leads into paying customers. But marketing is about coming up with the leads in the first place.
Marketing CRMs are all about identifying the right marketing activity for the right person at the right time. Key features to look out for in marketing CRMs include:
- Data analytics: Marketing CRM starts with understanding your audiences. Analytics does that by tracking behavior across channels. It tracks responses to marketing campaigns and draws on sales data. These insights help you sort successful marketing strategies from duds.
- Segmentation: Segmentation means grouping your audiences by demographics and behavior. This turns data-led insights about leads and customers into personalized content and campaigns. Better targeting also means more efficient use of marketing resources.
- Email marketing: Digital marketing covers many different areas. All-in-one marketing CRMs support ad campaigns, SEO, social, content marketing, and more. But the best fit for CRM is email marketing. Email addresses are the default contact information and are easy to gather. Broadcast email campaigns mean you can reach large groups at once. Or with automation tools, you can set up automated workflows to send messages one by one based on contact actions. Easy-to-use visual email editors mean you can create attractive branded emails quickly.
- Marketing automation: Sending personalized campaigns to thousands of contacts is heavy work. Marketing automation does the heavy lifting for you. Automation tools in a marketing CRM let you set rules based on what your contacts do. Using tracking data, you can trigger targeted and timely messages.
- Lead generation: Growing your audience is an important part of marketing. More leads mean more opportunities for you to convert into customers. Lead generation revolves around asking people to sign up for something. In return for their email address, you give contacts something valuable. This can be things like a newsletter, a free ebook, a webinar, a special offer, or a t-shirt.
- Landing pages: You don’t always want leads clicking through to your home page from a campaign. It’s much better to set up dedicated pages for special offers. It shortens the path to purchase. That’s why marketing CRMs should offer landing page builders. As with email design, most will offer user-friendly drag-and-drop editors. That means anyone can build a page. You won’t need to ask or hire developers every time.
- A/B testing: Finally, the best marketing CRMs will also let you test your campaigns. Seeing how small samples of contacts respond lets you refine your approach. This stops you from wasting time and money on campaigns that don’t work. A/B testing works by comparing how different versions of the same campaign perform.
Keap (formerly Infusionsoft)
Keap was founded way back in 2001 as Infusionsoft. It was part of the original wave of SaaS sales automation platforms. Known as Keap since 2019, the service still offers sales tools. But these days it leans more heavily towards marketing functionality.
Keap has excellent marketing automation tools. Its automation workflow builder is very user-friendly and accessible to novice users. Easily automate lead capture and trigger follow-ups the moment someone signs up. You can also use CRM tracking data to score prospects and personalize responses.
Keap also includes comprehensive email and SMS marketing options. You get templates and an easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor. Emails and texts can be scheduled into advanced, multi-channel, automated campaigns. Behavior-based tagging and segmentation further enhance the personalization.
You can get even more out of Keap by connecting to hundreds of other third-party platforms. Some integrations are paid. There is also a mobile app that provides a business phone line, SMS, and email account from your smartphone.
Keap starts at $169 a month for the Pro plan. That includes 2 users and 1500 contacts. You get CRM, email marketing, payments, invoicing, landing pages, sales pipelines automated lead capture, the mobile app, and more.
ActiveCampaign is best known as an email marketing automation software. But it describes itself as a ‘customer experience automation’ platform. Like Keap, it has tools for sales and service. But its marketing features are what really stand out.
ActiveCampaign is a great platform for more advanced marketers. Its automation tools are a cut above. It offers advanced automations for sales, marketing, and CRM functions. There’s a powerful visual editor that lets you create these advanced workflows. There are hundreds of automation ‘recipes’ to give you a head start. And you can map out how all your automations fit together visually.
It connects to more than 100 external platforms. Big ones include eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Woocommerce, and BigCommerce. This lets you pull customer data from your store into your CRM. You can also build promotional emails and landing pages with product listings. And track sales data to check the impact of your campaigns.
ActiveCampaign offers scalable pricing. Plans start at $9 a month for the Marketing Lite plan if paid annually, which gives you email marketing & marketing automation, site tracking, unlimited email sends and campaign report for 1 user. CRM and sales engagement automation are available on Sales plus, starting at $19 a month. This plan comes with a mobile CRM app. There is a 14-day free trial available.
Engagebay is another all-in-one CRM platform that’s strong on marketing. Engagebay stands out for the simplicity and user-friendly nature of its marketing tools.
Engagebay’s ‘Marketing Bay’ product covers all the bases. It offers email marketing and drip campaigns with ready-to-roll templates. You can build landing pages and sign-up forms for lead capture. User-friendly drag-and-drop editors make it easy to get started.
Engagebay also offers features you don’t always find on rival marketing platforms. There are dedicated tools for managing and monitoring inbound and content marketing campaigns. You can create on-site messages to greet visitors to your website. Or send out push notifications to mobile. You can also run high volume SMS campaigns.
In short, Engagebay puts an impressive range of marketing tools at your fingertips. You can throw in sales and service CRM features with automation, too. That all adds up to an impressive package ideal for small businesses. You can push what Engagebay can do further still with third-party integrations. There are 15 integrations available include Zapier, which opens the door to over 4000 other platforms.
Engagebay offers a free forever plan with 500 contacts, email marketing, autoresponders, landing pages, CRM, and live chat. Paid plans for Marketing Bay as a standalone product start at $12.99 per user per month. But you can get the full Engagebay suite for just $14.99 a month. There is a 20% discount for paying two years in advance. We have a special deal that makes Engagebay even more affordable. Get 20% off any Engagebay plan if you sign up via this link.
Sendinblue is another full marketing and sales suite. Its biggest selling points are email marketing and marketing automation. But it offers a lot more. Including automated high volume transactional emails and social ad campaigns.
And yes, CRM is part of the mix. Sendinblue’s CRM features lean toward the marketing side. They cover the full range of tools from lead generation to selling.
Sendinblue has a broad appeal, from small businesses all the way up to large enterprises. It is built with ease of use in mind even for new users. Uploading, creating, and editing contact lists is easy. Segmentation options are powerful but straightforward and link directly into marketing automation. There’s a visual drag-and-drop automation workflow builder that takes no time at all to get to grips with.
Sendinblue offers around 60 third-party integrations. These lean towards eCommerce platforms and content management systems. But you can also connect to other CRMs, too. This is great if you want more sales and service tools for more of an all-in-one experience.
Another thing Sendinblue is well known for is its free forever plan. This lets you build and send 300 emails/day and store unlimited contacts. It includes list segmentation and CRM tools. You don’t get access to marketing automation until you pay for the Premium plan, starting at $65 a month. We have a sweet deal just for our readers. Get 10% off any yearly Sendinblue plan if you sign up via this link.
Since its launch in 2006, Hubspot has become a major name in digital marketing. It is considered a pioneer in the field of inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is about encouraging customers to come to you with educational content. If customers make the first move, they are much more likely to convert into paying customers. To do this well, you need to know your customers inside out to know what to offer them. Hence the connection between inbound marketing and CRM.
Hubspot offers a full business platform with tools for marketing, sales, service, content management, and operations. But it’s best known for its marketing CRM. It offers a bigger set of marketing tools than most rival services. All the standards like email marketing, marketing automation, and lead generation are there. But on top of those, you get tools for blogging and content creation, SEO, social media marketing, and more.
It also pulls in data from across your business to give you a complete picture. This covers sales, customer service, and your website as well as marketing. And it breaks everything down into detailed conversion analysis.
There is a free version with email marketing, ad management, forms, live chat, and reporting. Both the Free and Starter plans focus on lead generation, contact management, and basic content creation.
Hubspot pricing for the full bundle starts at $45 a month billed annually for up to 1,000 contacts. This gives you what is described as a ‘starter’ CRM package. For the more advanced marketing tools, you have to sign up for the Professional plan starting at $1600 a month. It’s here that Hubspot comes into its own as a CRM platform for larger businesses.
Freshworks is another all-in-one business software suite. It has tools for marketing, sales, service, IT service management, and HR. Freshmarketer is its marketing CRM product.
Freshworks specializes in offering stacks of features at affordable prices. Like the rest of its product suite, Freshmarketer is easy-to-use. The tools are designed to help growing businesses get the most from their CRM. This includes pre-built industry-specific ‘playbooks’ for creating marketing campaigns. And a drag-and-drop Journey Builder for customizing them.
Freshmarketer is great for engaging with customers across different channels. It integrates email marketing, chatbots, SMS, and WhatsApp messaging in one place. On higher-tier plans, you can also add webhooks and events marketing.
There is a Shopify integration that unlocks extra features for digital stores. This includes an extra 10,000 contacts on every plan, customer segmentation, and custom playbooks.
The free version offers email marketing and contact management tools for 100 contacts. Pricing starts at $19 a month if you pay annually. There is a 21-day free trial that has all the features. The number of contacts and chatbot sessions allowed is limited on each plan, but you can buy add-ons at any time.
All successful businesses know that customer relationship management doesn’t end at the point of sale. If your goal is to build a strong base of loyal customers, you could say that’s just the start.
Keeping hold of customers makes sound business sense. You have a 60% to 70% chance of selling to an existing customer, versus a 5% to 20% chance with a new prospect. Existing customers are also 31% more likely to have a higher average order value.
How do you keep customers coming back for more? Quality of service makes all the difference. Marketing and sales CRMs focus on generating and nurturing leads. Service CRMs are all about customer satisfaction.
Service CRMs provide tools to make service and support quick and efficient. They help to deliver consistent service across all touchpoints.
Key features to look for in a service CRM system include:
- Omnichannel communications: Modern customers use lots of different methods of communication. Phone, email, SMS/messaging apps, live chat, social media, and video. Great service starts with offering customers support on the channels they prefer. That makes it important for service CRMs to manage multiple channels.
- Ticketing: Integrated ticketing means every support request is processed in the same place. No matter which touchpoint is used, all queries are treated the same. This improves consistency and helps make workflows more efficient.
- Real-time data sharing: Modern customers don’t like being put on hold while an agent looks up what their query is about. Or having to repeat themselves over and over again. Real-time data sharing means agents have all relevant information available. When a customer gets in touch, the agent can see the ticket or customer history straight away. This speeds up service even when queries are passed between teams.
- Workflow automation: Customers complain when they get bounced around agents and teams. Not knowing who the right person is to deal with a query isn’t a great look for any business. Service CRM workflow automation sends queries to the right place at the first point of contact.
Freshdesk is the service CRM from the SaaS software suite Freshworks. It’s designed to make customer service simple for growing businesses and small help desk teams.
Collaboration and automation tools make ticket and task management smooth. This includes ‘collision detection’, a tool that highlights when another agent is already dealing with a ticket. You can set and manage your own SLAs with time and completion tracking. There is also a suite for creating your own self-service knowledge base.
Freshworks has an app marketplace with over 1000 integrations. These include workflow automation tools, social ticketing, eCommerce platforms, survey tools, video plug-ins, and more.
There’s a free version for up to 10 agents with email and social ticketing, knowledge base, and reporting. Freshdesk comes in two paid tiers: Support Desk and Omnichannel.
Support Desk starts at $15 per agent a month when you pay for a full year. It has everything in free plus automation, collision detection, integration, SLAs, and more.
The Omnichannel platform starts at $29 per agent per month, billed annually. This is for businesses that want to give customers more choices to contact the helpdesk. On the cheapest tier, it has live chat and telephone. WhatsApp Business and Apple Business Chat are available on higher tiers. Performance analytics pulls in data from all channels in real time. On higher plans, you can also automate workloads across channels.
Agile CRM is a complete CRM software platform. It includes customer service tools on all its plans. It’s affordably priced and the service tools are some of the best available.
At the core is Agile’s excellent helpdesk software. Automated workflows help to assign tickets to the right people first time. You can group tickets into categories to forward to the most qualified person. This speeds up first response and resolution times.
Canned responses send automated replies so customers don’t feel like they are waiting. Smart recommendations also tell agents the best course of action.
Agile CRM lets you run your helpdesk via email, live chat or telephone. There are 50+ integrations available including eCommerce, social media, and email marketing platforms.
There is a free forever plan which gives you access to all the basic service, sales, and marketing tools. As this lets you have up to 10 users, it means you can start running a helpdesk for your micro business for no cost at all. With prices starting at $8.99 a month, Agile CRM is a cost-effective option for small businesses.
Zendesk is a true customer service specialist. For other vendors, the service CRM is part of a bigger offer. But Zendesk’s flagship software is a customer service platform.
Zendesk is feature-rich with flexible plans suitable for businesses big and small. Its core tools include a multi-channel ticketing system. Tickets can be created and responded to via email, telephone, SMS, and live chat. Automated workflows assign and manage tickets while AI tools give customers instant answers. Zendesk will even scan social media to create tickets from customer posts.
Zendesk manages everything in a single workspace. Progress and outcome analytics are readily visible. On higher plans, you can customize your own metrics.
Zendesk lets you build a knowledge base on all plans. AI bots use these resources to prompt agents as they deal with customer queries. On higher tiers, you can create separate branded helpdesk portals. Several helpdesks can be built on the same account with multilingual support.
There’s a 30-day free trial and if you are a start-up, you can apply to get Zendesk free for six months. The Zendesk for Service Suite starts at $49 per agent per month billed annually. There is also a more basic Support package that starts at $19. This includes basic ticketing with pre-made rule-based workflows and a customer history database.
SugarCRM is the original open-source CRM and Sugar Serve is its service CRM. It’s aimed at growing businesses that want to make customer service more efficient.
In SugarCRM, the focus is on building and managing high quality self-service resources. It includes tools that automatically deflect customer queries to the knowledgebase. The more customers help themselves, the more efficiently your service teams can operate.
If a query can’t be resolved using the knowledge base, Sugar Serve uses smart routing tools to get it to the right person. Sentiment analysis ‘takes the customer’s temperature’ to judge when to prioritize or escalate.
All customer information is available to agents via visual dashboards. There are real-time performance updates so you can always see if you are hitting your SLAs. SugarCRM will also identify and track common issues to help with early intervention.
Pricing for Sugar Serve starts at $80 per user per month. You have to have at least three users, which means the cheapest you can pay is $240. There isn’t a free trial or a free version, but you can get a demo.
Small Business CRMs
The market for customer relationship management software was once dominated by large enterprises. That was partly because of the size and complexity of many legacy CRM platforms. They were expensive to build, expensive to buy, and required a skilled IT team to run.
The explosion in cloud-based CRM has changed everything. The SaaS model has seen the price of CRMs decline steadily over the years. Remote hosting takes away the technical complexity.
That has opened the door for dozens of small business CRMs to enter the market.
As an SMB owner, you want a reliable all-in-one platform that covers all bases. You want a CRM that is affordable and user-friendly.
Key things that define the best SMB-friendly CRMs include:
- User-friendly interface: Small business owners have to be experts in time and resource management. Can you afford spending hours training your staff to use a new piece of business software? Small business CRMs pay a lot of attention to design and navigation. They use visual interfaces built to help even complete beginners get up to speed quickly.
- Strong customer support: When you don’t have your own in-house IT team, you rely on the quality of support from the vendor. Most CRMs for small businesses have well-stocked knowledge bases with articles and videos. They are easy to search and the guides are easy to digest. Many back this up with well-trained support teams. They focus on offering rapid turnaround on queries via phone, email or live chat.
- Integrations: Small businesses have most to gain from app integration marketplaces. Large enterprises can afford big pieces of software packed full of features. Small, agile, cloud-based platforms suit the budgets of small businesses better. But where the real value comes is when all these different services work together. The best small business CRMs offer simple integrations with apps you already use.
BenchmarkONE is one of the best CRM platforms for small businesses. It’s all-in-one, super easy to use and has tools for all stages of the customer journey.
BenchmarkONE is a great platform if you want to convert more web visitors into paying customers. It combines marketing and sales automation in a single user-friendly platform. You can turn web visitors into leads with forms and landing pages. You can segment your contacts to send targeted email campaigns. You can use deal pipelines to track sales performance.
Everything is as straightforward as you could want it and everything is easy to learn.
BenchmarkONE has a free version with 250 contacts and 500 emails per month. It includes contact management, email marketing, landing pages, marketing automation, and a full CRM. Pricing starts at $29 per month for 500 contacts and 2500 emails for the Lite plan. This plan has contact management, email marketing, automation, and landing pages. The Pro Package with the full CRM starts at $179 per month. We have a sweet BenchmarkONE deal just for our readers. Get 50% off your first month or sign up for a year and get an additional 10% off your annual plan + 1 month for free if you sign up via this link.
Engagebay’s big sell as a full CRM platform for small businesses is its range of features. With loads of marketing, sales, and service tools, it’s an ideal one-stop tool.
You get a full range of marketing features including lead generation, email broadcasts, and automated campaigns. Connect marketing to your sales pipelines for advanced automation. Their contact and lead management tools give you easily digestible data about contacts and contact groups. Lead scoring lets you focus on your best prospects.
For support teams, you can automate ticket handling and get in-depth reports on service performance. Engagebay also has live chat which is great for support and sales teams. You can connect Engagebay to 30 apps, including Shopify, Thinkific, and Zapier.
There is a free tier that gives you access to basic marketing, sales, and service tools for 500 contacts. Pricing starts at $11.99 a month if you pay for 2 years. And it’s still only $14.99 per month if you want to pay monthly, which is still a great deal for marketing, sales, and service tools. We have a special deal to make Engagebay even more affordable. Get 20% off any Engagebay plan if you sign up via this link.
Pipedrive ticks all the boxes for a small business CRM. It’s quick and simple to set up and use but still packs a punch. It’s affordable. It’s scalable. And although it’s positioned mainly as a sales CRM, it has everything you need for an all-in-one platform.
You get the basics of lead, deal, calendar and pipeline management. As your needs evolve, you can add email marketing and sales automations. There is a mobile app available for iOS and Android, so teams can keep working on the move. The app includes call tracking, caller ID, search, and an organiser tool.
Another benefit for small businesses is the number of integrations. There are over 300 in total. You can extend Pipedrive’s functionality using your existing tools even on the cheapest plans.
Pipedrive doesn’t offer a free tier but there is a 14-day free trial with full access to all features. Prices start at £12.50 per user per month with an annual subscription for lead, deal, calendar and pipeline management. Higher tiers offer voice integration, contract management, revenue projections and forecasts. They also have add-ons for live chat, smart docs, and identifying website visitors.
Keap (formerly Infusionsoft)
Keap is a great CRM for small businesses who don’t mind spending extra for advanced features.
Compared to other all-in-one CRMs aimed at small businesses, Keap serves the needs of a wider type of user. It has great marketing, sales and service features with tons of automation options. You can run invoicing and payments from within the platform, making it a great option for B2B. You can quickly generate automated quotes and manage your appointments.
Depending on which country you are in, you can access all features on the move with a mobile app. In the US and Canada, you also get a business phone line and text messaging included.
Keap’s pricing starts at $129 for 2 users and 1500 contacts with CRM, email marketing, payments, appointments, landing pages, sales pipelines, text marketing and a lot more. It doesn’t have a free version but you can try it free for 14 days.
Freshsales is a small business CRM that’s cheap, easy to use and full of features.
Freshsales combines email, voice, chatbot and WhatsApp as channels in a single platform. AI-powered contact scoring identifies your strongest leads. On higher plans, similar predictive AI tools tell you how likely a deal is to close, and what the next-best action is.
Visual sales pipelines let you plot and manage customer journeys in a range of views. Automated sales sequences help ensure you never miss an opportunity.
Freshsales Suite also lets you build marketing campaigns across channels. Both products are supported by the Freshsales mobile app. This lets you make and log calls on the move, send emails and messages, and view data in real time.
Both Freshsales and Freshsales Suite start at £12 per user per month and have a completely free tier.
HubSpot is one of the biggest brands in CRM software. It’s well known for having some of the most advanced tools for large businesses. But it isn’t just about enterprise CRM. Hubspot offers very attractive packages for small business users, too.
There are dedicated products (called Hubs) for marketing, sales, customer service and operations. Or you can choose the all-in-one Hubspot CRM bundle. Or you can piece together your own custom bundle. This helps you get the right tools you need for your business to grow, without paying for things you don’t need.
HubSpot CRM helps teams manage workflows across marketing, sales and service. All data is updated and stored in the same place, and you can assign tasks centrally across teams. It comes with multichannel communications including email marketing, live chat and Facebook Messenger. There’s marketing and sales automation, plus pipelines and ticketing.
All Starter packages for small businesses start at $45 a month. For the Marketing Hub, you get unlimited users on the same account. For the Sales and Service Hubs, and the CRM bundle, you get two users for this price. There is also a Free tier with basic versions of the marketing, sales and service CRM tools included.
All Starter packages include the Hubspot mobile app. And you can connect your account to thousands of other software platforms via Zapier.
Gmail CRMs for a more efficient inbox
Email is the perfect partner for customer relationship management. A quality CRM system should include email as a tried and tested way of reaching customers. Email is perfect for bulk broadcasts. It’s also easy to automate and personalise.
But what if you could add CRM features to your existing email platform?
Gmail isn’t only the world’s largest email service. It’s also now the world’s largest business email client. It has more than five million paying subscribers. As a result, CRMs that plug straight into Gmail accounts are in demand.
Adding a CRM to Gmail means you get improved contact management tools for your Google contacts list. You already use G Suite tools day in, day out, so the CRM just feels like an extension of those. You and your team will be up and running using the CRM features in no time.
HubSpot is one of the world’s most popular all-in-one CRM platforms. With their Chrome extension, you can access many of its best tools from your Gmail inbox.
The Google sidebar plugin fully integrates your email account with CRM. You can set up automated email sequences in Gmail, track responses and update contact records.
Email templates make it easier to create attractive emails to encourage more responses. The HubSpot plugin means you can personalise emails automatically. The extension is also available on mobile via the Hubspot CRM app.
Pipedrive offers an email marketing platform and puts email right at the heart of its CRM. This includes a purpose built inbox with special CRM tools. You get email templates, personalization, simple group emails and tracking.
Alternatively, you can connect Pipedrive to your G Suite with a Chrome extension. That puts all the Pipedrive CRM tools inside your Gmail. Pipedrive enhances the familiar Gmail experience with simple scheduling and automated follow ups. You can send mass emails and track who has opened and responded to your messages.
Plus, Pipedrive’s Smart Docs add-on improves Google Sheets and Google Slides. It has extra templates and auto-populates documents with CRM data. Your can also share documents with customers using tracking links.
Zoho is a huge cloud-based office suite with products in 12 different categories. These include sales and CRM tools, marketing software, communications, collaboration, productivity and more.
Zoho CRM ranks as one of the most feature-rich CRM systems available. And it has a G-Suite integration. You can link all Google Workstation apps. If you already use G-Suite in your business is that you can simply add Zoho CRM features. For Gmail, you get the benefit of Zoho’s intelligent automation tools with automatic contact record updates and sentiment analysis.
There’s a free trial on all plans and a free forever tier. Pricing starts at €14 per user per month if you pay for a full year up front. But the free plan doesn’t include any integrations.
NetHunt goes a step further than most CRM Gmail integrations. Its whole purpose is to work inside Gmail. Without Gmail, it doesn’t function at all (if you ignore the fact that there’s a version for LinkedIn, anyway).
NetHunt is the purest form of Gmail CRM. It’s for people who want to add CRM features to their Gmail and nothing else. It’s great for small businesses and solopreneurs who use Google Workspace.
Once up and running, NetHunt’s tools appear as a new menu to the left of the Gmail window. Features are simple and straightforward. They cover customer and lead management, sales pipelines, team collaboration and analytics. Plus, emails with basic automated sequences.
There is a mobile app for Android and iOS that adds CRM to Gmail on your phone. Prices start at $24 a month per user billed annually. Try out Nethunt
Mobile CRMs for selling on-the-go
Mobile now accounts for more than half of global web traffic. So it’s no surprise that business software is going mobile too.
Mobile CRM simply means a CRM system designed to work on a smartphone or tablet. It might be an app built for the Android or iOS operating systems. Or it might be a web app optimized for mobile.
The power of mobile CRM is it lets you take marketing, sales, and service anywhere. People can follow up on leads and sales opportunities at any moment. Mobile puts business data at your people’s fingertips anytime, any place. And it increases opportunities to collaborate over distance.
For Mobile CRMs, design and navigation are important to guarantee ease of use. Data security is a big concern with mobile CRM, especially if you ever connect to public WiFi.
HubSpot’s mobile apps for Android and iOS give you access to a full suite of tools. Key features include full contact management with sales and marketing tracking. That lets you keep tabs on leads wherever you are. A mobile inbox makes it easy to keep on top of tasks and collaborate with colleagues. A clever feature is the ability to add voice notes to contacts and tasks so you don’t have to stop and type.
A special ‘Hubspot keyboard’ feature means you can send sales assets from any communication or social app you use. It also comes with call logging tools. Any phone calls made to customers or prospects on your mobile get recorded directly in your CRM.
Monday.com doesn’t pull any punches with its mobile app. This isn’t a watered-down version of the main thing. Monday’s mobile app offers full functionality.
Monday lets you build and customize digital workspaces called boards. These let you run a huge range of functions across teams. Under the CRM umbrella, you can create boards for sales pipelines, data tracking, and analytics.
All these functions are available on mobile. All that is different from the desktop app is the way you navigate and use boards. The main thing missing is that you can’t create automations on mobile. Even without that, Monday.com is still one of the most full-featured sales CRMs for mobile.
Most mobile CRMs are iOS and Android app versions of a full CRM product. But Haystack is a mobile-first CRM. It’s designed as a mobile app with a web version you can access from any browser.
Haystack targets entrepreneurs who use smartphones as their digital device of choice. It’s ideal for anyone whose business is built around getting out and about meeting people.
The layouts are clean, and the navigation is intuitive. The core features focus on contact and team management and tracking sales opportunities. You can create quotes and proposals, and connect any email account for easy messaging. Or link a Mailchimp account to run mass email campaigns.
There is a free tier for single users and a 30-day free trial. Pricing starts at $29 per user a month.
Keap (formerly Infusionsoft)
Keap also has mobile apps for iOS and Android that sync to the main cloud-based CRM. This means you can access up-to-date data from marketing, sales, and service operations anywhere you go.
The Keap app doesn’t give you full access to all desktop tools. But you can create, manage, tag, and add notes to your contacts. Or create and send emails at any time. Templates are available for simple visual design on the go. You can also send out invoices.
The Keap app is currently only available in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In the US and Canada, it also includes a mobile business number and call plan.
Zoho has one of the most highly rated CRM apps on the market. Available for iOS and Android, the Zoho CRM app has extra touches designed especially for smartphones.
You can see all the latest pipelines, sales metrics, tasks, and team schedules wherever you are. You can call customers and clients from within the app. A personal assistant AI helps log call details, change deal status, record outcomes, and tag clients. You can even record voice notes that will automatically convert to text for colleagues to see.
The Zoho CRM app lets you view data and act even when offline. It comes with handy scheduling tools so you can plan your day on the move. These include clever mapping features so you can plan the best route to your next meeting. Or even look up nearby clients to arrange meetings on the go.
Free or cheap CRMs
CRM platforms that offer free trials or versions appeal for lots of different reasons. A free trial lets you ‘try before you buy’. Meaning you don’t have to commit to paying until you are sure it’s the right CRM system for you.
Free tiers go a step further. Often called ‘free forever’ plans, they mean you can use CRM for no charge at all, for as long as you like. This is great for start-ups and microbusinesses, or anyone looking to control costs.
Free trials of CRM software should give you access to all features for a limited period of time. Free and very cheap plans will typically let you use a limited number of features.
Engagebay offers a free forever plan that allows up to 500 contacts. It’s perfect for dipping your toes into CRM for the first time. It includes email marketing, lead and contact management and simple automations. You can connect to Gmail, Outlook or Office 365. And track your contacts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also add live chat to your website and manage your service tickets from the same platform.
For entry-level pricing, Engagebay is one of the best value CRMs out there. For $14.99 per user per month, its Basic plan gives you access to an impressive range of marketing, sales and service tools. There is a 10% discount for paying a year in advance, or 20% for paying two years upfront. So the cheapest deal for the all-in-one suite is $11.99 per user per month. You can also pay less to get the marketing, sales or service CRM products separately.
Engagebay is both affordable and highly scalable. From starting out at no cost at all, you can build your CRM capabilities as your business grows. And at every stage you can have confidence that it will be very cost effective. We have a sweet deal to make Engagebay even more affordable. Get 20% off any Engagebay plan if you sign up via this link.
HubSpot’s free forever plan is one of the best ways to get started with CRM without having to pay. The list of CRM features you get for free is impressive. You get contact management, lead generation, emails, deal pipelines, ticketing and support.
Some of the most impressive features for a free CRM is website tracking. This means you can gather data about what your contacts are doing on your website. This helps you understand the prospects and companies you are dealing with. Plus you can track and manage all activities and tasks across your teams.
There are direct integrations with Gmail and Outlook to run your CRM system from your email account. Plus you can connect to other third-party platforms via the Hubspot App Marketplace.
If you’re looking to get started with CRM for free, BenchmarkONE is an excellent option. If you have less than 250 contacts, you get access to the full list of Pro tier features.
That includes a full sales CRM, deal pipelines, Gmail integration and use of the mobile app. You also get a full suite of email marketing and marketing automation tools.
BenchmarkONE is also famously easy to use. 250 contacts is not many. But if you’re a business start-up, the pro features are a great way to grow your business quickly. We have a sweet BenchmarkONE deal for you when you’re ready to upgrade. Get 50% off your first month or sign up for a year and get an additional 10% off your annual plan + 1 month for free if you sign up via this link.
Freshsales’ free forever tier has simple contact management with multichannel communication. You can organise your contacts using customizable Lifecycle Stage templates. You can set these up to provide suggestions about how to move prospects to the next stage in the pipeline. This gives a taste of the AI-powered next best action prompts if you decide to buy full access.
The Freshsales free plan comes with integrated email, live chat and telephone. As well as a free forever plan, Freshsales also offers a 21-day free trial of all its sales and marketing tools.
Insightly offers an affordable CRM for small businesses. It focuses on core sales automation like lead capture and management with some basic marketing features. You can respond to opportunities with automated and mass emails.
Some of its best features are its customer relationship analytics. These dig deep into customer journeys and feed into tagging, lead scoring and opportunities management. There are also project management tools.
Insightly pricing starts at $29 a month per user. There is also a free tier for up to two users. This ‘no frills’ tier gives small teams contact management, sales and project tools. It’s an excellent way for start-ups to track early customer journeys.
There are mobile apps for iOS and Android with full access to all features. You can also choose between full Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365 integrations. Or more basic add-ons for Gmail and Outlook.
Apptivo positions itself as an app suite for businesses. It offers app bundles for a wide variety of purposes, CRM included. There are also tools for email marketing, invoicing, ecommerce and more.
Apptivo approaches pricing a little differently. It bases its plans on how many apps you get, plus the number of workflows you create between apps. What is consistent across all tiers is that they are attractively priced. Starting with a free forever tier that gives you 8 apps.
On the CRM side, the free tier covers basic contact management. A contact database, customer history, filters, tasks and reminders. But starting at $8 per user per month, you get extra sales tracking apps like opportunity management, sales pipelines, email integration and tracking. For $12 per user per month, you get email marketing campaigns and billing tools.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is CRM in simple words?
What is CRM used for?
What is CRM with examples?
Examples of what CRM does:
- Improving contact management
- Lead scoring, or identifying your best prospects
- Marketing automation, including campaign workflows and personalisation
- Sales automation, including pipelines designed to increase conversions
- Helpdesk ticketing
What are the types of CRM?
- Marketing CRM: These CRMs help marketing teams generate leads and personalise campaigns. They make marketing efforts easier through automation and use data to improve targeting.
- Sales CRM: These CRMs help your sales team get full visibility of the whole sales cycle. They tell you which potential customers are most likely to convert and automate parts of the sales process.
- Service CRM: Service CRMs help you improve how you support your existing customers. They provide ticketing, knowledge bases, and customer service automation for your helpdesk.
Is CRM a software?
Is CRM hard to learn?
What is the best sales CRM?
What is the difference between CMS and CRM?
CRM stands for customer relationship management. It’s a data management software focused on customers. A CRM system tracks customer activity and analyses data. It provides data-led intelligence for marketing campaigns, sales processes and customer service.