What Is The Best CRM For Small Businesses In 2021?

By Rodney Laws | Business

Oct 15

Big data analysis isn’t just for big companies. Through powerful yet intuitive CRM systems, it’s possible for small businesses to glean insight into their sales. But which CRM choice is the most fitting?

The online world offers seemingly-unlimited business opportunities, allowing brands of all sizes to find new prospects, streamline their operations, spread their marketing materials, and action real-time strategic changes. Taking full advantage of those opportunities, however, requires the use of sophisticated software designed to support business development.

Among the key software types (sales and marketing tools being particularly important), there’s one that plays a vital role across the board: CRMs. A CRM system (with CRM standing for customer relationship management) provides features that help companies tweak their targeting, unpack customer activity, improve retention, and do myriad other useful things. It’s an area in which every ambitious business should invest.

But if you’re going to commit to a CRM, which one should you choose? While the monthly subscription model used by most systems will give you the option of changing your mind down the line without wasting any money, it’s simply inconvenient to consider having to port over all your data and learn a completely new system.

To make things easier for you, we’re going to expand upon the role of a CRM, identify the features and advantages you should look for, list some popular options, and attempt to pick a frontrunner. By the end, you should have a good idea of how to overhaul your sales processes.

What are sales pipeline management tools?

In a nutshell, sales pipeline software allows businesses (and sales representatives in particular) to easily and extensively track the progress of their various sales opportunities. Every small business needs a regularly-updated lineup of leads to account for inevitable churn: only big brands have the resources and reputations to keep their top clients locked in for years.

Though this category of tools could encompass other things, it’s essentially just populated by CRM tools. A good CRM solution should do just about everything typical sales teams will need to cover in their daily workloads, offering contact management tools, project management tools, third-party integrations with marketing automation services, and various other handy features. 

How important is CRM software?

The answer to this question is easy: if you’re running a small business and aspire to grow it, CRM software is a vital investment. Contact management can easily get messy if you’re trying to handle it through ad-hoc spreadsheet work or even handwritten notes. Leads can be lost, and wires can be crossed. It might seem fine when you’re only pitching to a client on occasion, but long-term development will demand an increase in pitching scale.

Due to this, it’s imperative that you start sourcing some CRM software for small business growth — but the fact that you’re reading this likely means you don’t need any more convincing. Let’s get into what makes great CRM software tools worthy of handling key customer relationships.

What should you look for in a CRM?

So, what makes a CRM suited to small business use? What should you look for? The simplest way to look at the matter is to break it down into the following four core elements:

  • Pricing. Small business CRM software has to be affordable, because small businesses simply can’t afford to pay huge amounts for the tools they use. And while it’s possible to use a free CRM, it won’t provide the scalability or flexibility that business growth demands. This is an investment in your future that needs to be financial. Pay particular attention to how tools are priced: will you be charged per user, or can you have unlimited users? If you have various sales reps, the latter will be preferable, but if there’s just one person doing the work then the former will be better. And look into discounts available for long-term commitments. If you can confirm that a tool works for you through a trial period, and you’re sure about it, it makes sense to commit.
  • Features. What do you get for the price you’re paying? Software for small businesses may be sparsely featured relative to services aimed at the enterprise level, but you can still realistically expect a range of CRM solutions that can transform your sales process. Does a given candidate offer compelling workflow automation tools? Can it handle customer data in a GDPR-friendly way? Will it allow your sales team to neatly nurture customer relationships through tracking customer touchpoints? Consider how differently something like customer segmentation can be approached, and determine whether the CRM process you’re looking at truly suits your company ethos. All your business processes need to fit together neatly, after all, and smart small business owners will only invest in systems that work together seamlessly.
  • Design. The best CRM software doesn’t just have great features: it also makes them extremely easy to use. The software world is littered with examples of tools that can do incredible things but require their users to navigate complex interfaces. The steeper the learning curve for a given tool, the more time you’ll need to put into training, and that’ll cost you money instead of helping you make more. It might end up being worth it, of course, but you shouldn’t settle for a poorly-designed tool when there are plenty around that provide great features through intuitive layouts. Remember that you’ll be using the interface of your chosen CRM for a long time, possibly years, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll be updated. Does it have a mobile app so you can access features on the go? Is it flexible? Is it really good enough?
  • Support. Now that software is so frequently provided as a service (which is important because it lowers costs, improves efficiency, and increases data security), the quality of support provided with a software subscription has become immensely significant. If a new feature is implemented and the documentation doesn’t quite cover everything, you’ll end up relying on the support to point you in the right direction. In addition to checking the support terms, reviewing the hours, and considering the provided channels (you may need the option of using phone calls, for instance), you should read customer reviews. A small business CRM can have a great support scheme on paper, but lack the expertise or commitment to follow through on a consistent basis.

CRM options to consider

Now that we’ve detailed what you should look for in a CRM, we can run through some of the leading contenders for the small business crown:

Zoho CRM

The Zoho Corporation began offering SaaS tools back in 2005, and Zoho CRM led the way. The company boasts of a comprehensive feature set allowing users to carry out sophisticated customer journey analysis, implement complex workflow automation, create customizable wizards for streamlining processes, and even produce branded self-service support portals.

At one point there was no free plan option for Zoho CRM, but the acquisition and rebranding of Bigin changed that. Now known as Bigin by Zoho CRM, this alternative solution (that’s fully upgradable to the main Zoho CRM, usefully) offers a simpler solution that’s geared towards small businesses — if you’re willing to accept some key limitations, you can use it for free.

Regardless of which version you try, you’ll face per-user pricing with variable feature caps. There are also add-ons you can select if necessary, with additional file storage being one. What’s good about Zoho CRM is that it’s formidable right away, though. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s well-rounded and could be an excellent choice.

HubSpot CRM

HubSpot offers a fantastic array of resources to help inbound marketers get results, but don’t let the popularity of its blog fool you: it’s a software company above all else, and the HubSpot CRM platform is a powerhouse, particularly given that many of its tools are available for free. The core part of the CRM system is 100% free and always has been, and you only need to pay if you must exceed the limitations of the lite tools or want additional features.

This may sound perfect, but the note from earlier still applies: if you really want to grow your business, you’ll need to invest in it. And if you want advanced CRM features, you’ll need to invest in HubSpot’s Sales Hub package. Even the Starter tier offers email scheduling and tracking, VOIP functionality for contacting leads, the ability to bank snippets to save time, and the use of a shared inbox for communication management, to name just some things.

So is HubSpot CRM a good choice? Well, it requires more configuration than some alternatives, but the ability to use those core features indefinitely without paying for them is very appealing. If you want to trial something for longer than 14 or 30 days, give it a try: you don’t have anything to lose (except for a little time), and if it’s a good fit, you can feel confident about committing to HubSpot due to its outstanding reputation.

Less Annoying CRM

Developed as an alternative to complex CRMs already on the market (hence the name), Less Annoying CRM avoids add-ons and niche terminology in an effort to make customer relationship management more accessible. It also offers simple pricing, charging $15 per user per month with no additional tiers or further expenses. You also don’t need to make a long-term commitment to get that price, which drastically reduces your risk.

So what features are on offer? In essence, all the core features you’d expect to rely on: everything pertaining to adding and managing contacts, complete with custom data fields, and the schedule management you need to keep your leads moving in the right direction. You won’t find email scheduling options, but you can easily log emails from any provider.

The service is web-based, so you can access it from any decent web-browsing device, and the company has committed to providing all future updates for free. There’s even a convenient export feature so you can make a copy of your data for backup purposes or to migrate to a different CRM. There’s nothing in place to tie you down. So should you use Less Annoying CRM? Give the trial a go, and you’ll soon find out if it fits you.

Is there a best CRM for small business use?

To wrap up, then, we can revisit the titular question: what is the best CRM for small businesses in 2021? Alas, the answer, as is often so the case, is that there is no best CRM for small businesses. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Those with terrible reviews clearly aren’t worth your time, but there are many services (particularly the three we’ve looked at here) that consistently get great ratings, so you can’t go wrong with any of them.

If you don’t want to spend any money, go with HubSpot CRM. It might be enough for you. If you want to pay for a decent service with core features, try Less Annoying CRM. And if you’re willing to pay extra for outstanding automation options, look into Zoho CRM.

For more guidance on comparing and contrasting the best online store builders and CRMs, check out Ecommerceplatforms.io’s reviews