10 Best Small Business CRMs Compared & Ranked in 2023
One of the key foundational goals of a small business or startup is strategic growth, and growth is typically measured by sales revenue, the number of clients, and the number of employees you have. Each of these metrics shares one tool in common—a good customer relationship management (CRM) system.
When you’re first starting out, maybe using a notebook, excel sheet, or Word document worked for you, but that’s only a temporary solution. Once you hire additional staff, build out a sales team, have service calls or account management documentation to add, and other functionality that passing around a notebook won’t work for, you’ll wish you had a good shareable solution from the beginning. That’s when a CRM software solution comes into play.
Having a good CRM helps small companies find better prospects, improve processes and increase their revenue. To that end, today we’re looking at the top-rated cloud-based, SaaS CRM tools for small businesses, how they work, and the best CRM to choose.
What is a CRM Software System?
A customer relationship management (CRM) software system is a tool, often cloud-based, that tracks all prospect and customer interactions with your company. The CRM uses software integrations to pull data in from multiple sources–like your website’s lead form, email system, digital ads, calling and SMS tool, and more–to track each individual prospect or customer journey.
From a data standpoint, CRMs can do much more than a simple spreadsheet template for your list of leads or sales activity log. They can create real-time reports and dashboards showing what’s working for your sales team, and areas of opportunity where outreach can or should be adjusted.
Benefits of a CRM System for Small Businesses
Most small business owners are used to working a 50+ hour work week to get all the things done that need to happen to run their business. Implementing a CRM won’t necessarily cut that time by up to 85%, but it can go a long way in helping you spend your time more efficiently and more effectively.
CRMs help business leaders:
- Reduce time spent on repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on the big picture and strategy
- Create a centralized point for managing business processes by integrating with multiple sources and syncing customer data together in one place
- Track leads as they move through the sales funnel, log all outreach efforts and engagements, and prioritize leads for sales reps to focus on
- Track customers throughout the customer lifespan, noting their product usage history and alerting you when a customer may be ready for upselling or is at risk of canceling
- Create and view customizable dashboards detailing the status of each stage in your sales funnel and the overall health of your sales and customer-centered business processes
While there are dozens of CRM systems, a small business CRM must have both ease of use and advanced functionality needed to provide valuable data without a ton of technical know-how. In the next section, we’ll take a look at the features small businesses should look for.
What to Look for in Small Business CRM Software
When looking for CRMs, there are some features that are must-haves for small businesses. All CRMs will have the basics of contact management, sales automation, lead management, and reporting, so here are the additional features to watch for.
Integration with Current Tools: Each small business uses tools, and probably will have established these before you get to choosing a CRM. A good example of this is e-mail. Maybe your team uses Outlook 365 or Gmail. If so, your CRM should integrate with the email platform. If your sales reps have to spend their time copying and pasting emails, you haven’t saved any time. A good CRM will interface with your email and log copies of all touchpoints in its system via seamless third-party integrations.
Popular third-party integrations include Slack, Outlook, Mailchimp, Hubspot, Facebook, Dropbox, Google Drive, and sales management tools. When you use your CRM as the main hub of information and communication, your customer experience improves drastically.
Pipeline Management: As a lead comes into your sales funnel, you’ll want them to go through a specific customer journey—the sales process. A good CRM will allow you to set up that journey and track every stage. (An example of this journey is in the next section.) If you are going to have multiple sales funnels for different types of customers, you’ll need multiple pipelines which will affect the software you choose.
Automated Workflow: What separates a good CRM from a glorified digital address book and contact log is workflow automation features. By setting up automation, your team is now free to spend time with customers and business development duties. Imagine the following scenario:
- A prospect fills out a form on your website and immediately receives an e-mail inviting them to schedule a call with your team member using calendar integration.
- Sales rep has a new meeting appear on their calendar, along with follow-up tasks.
- After the sales rep confirms the meeting took place (with one click), a welcome e-mail is sent with a link to a webinar.
- The CRM detects when the prospect has clicked on the webinar and sends an e-mail on behalf of the sales rep an hour later asking if they watched the webinar and had any questions.
This is a simple example of how your CRM can automate processes that seem natural to your prospect.
Customer Information and Communication: The more you know about your prospect, the better you can establish rapport, an important part of sales! A good CRM will integrate with B2B data providers to help you discover important details about your prospects, or allow you to add custom notes to track what matters.
As team members learn information about your prospects and customers, that information is stored in the CRM’s customer profile and shared across your entire company, so it will seem to the customer that they are a top priority, discussed in team meetings as a VIP (which of course, they all are).
Robust Reporting and Metrics: As a business owner, your CRM should provide excellent reporting and dashboards so you can evaluate project management milestones, lead generation, lead scoring, sales stage process, and other sales KPIs.
Anywhere Access: As a small business, it’s likely that your sales team members are also serving multiple roles - as account managers, customer support specialists, etc. And more than likely, they’re doing these roles at all times of day. The best CRMs are cloud-based, allowing your reps to access and manage every detail of each lead’s personalized experience, no matter where they are—home, office, or otherwise.
How Small Business CRM Pricing Works
Nearly all cloud-based CRMs offer similar free-to-paid-plans pricing models for SMBs.
- Free Account: Either a free one-person account with limited functionality or a free trial for a limited time of a fully functional account. (We don’t recommend the limited functionality account versions, because they just won’t have all the features you need for growth.) Also, keep in mind if you do a “free trial” account, it might be the highest tier functionality, so if you continue the service at a lower tier level, you’ll be losing some functionality.
- Tiered Pricing: Multiple account tiers are billed per user with additional features or capacity at each tier. This allows you to invest in the features you need and grow as your company grows.
- Add-Ons: Some CRMs like Close are all-in-one and pricing reflects that. Others require the integration of third-party services to do all the features of an all-in-one. They are lower-priced from the start but may require paid add-ins. They also may require paid subscriptions to other services such as e-mail marketing, telephony, etc.
- Multi-User Rate: In some instances, CRMs will have a rate based on features used and not per user. We advise caution when choosing these CRMs as they tend to be either very expensive for a small business or with very limited features.
10 CRM Software Systems for Small Businesses
If there’s something that we here at Close know, it’s CRMs. There are a few different types of CRM, each offering pros and cons that will affect the way your company operates. Here’s an overview:
- All-in-one CRM systems offer fantastic support, training, and customization. They automatically integrate telephone dialers, contract and commission tracking, dynamic sales tools (such as referral management and cross-selling automation), and dynamic reporting.
- Operational CRM systems streamline and automate workflows, and focus on monitoring and optimizing customer-facing business processes such as marketing, sales, service, and billing. They may integrate third-party services but typically require you to establish contracts with multiple vendors to get the same benefits as an all-in-one.
- Marketing CRM systems work by streamlining marketing processes, including bulk email, individual email, website, SMS, social media, and sales call scheduling with existing customers. These systems are often used in tandem with a centralized CRM.
We’re biased as we think Close is the best CRM software out there, but we’re not ignorant when it comes to our competition. We admit it—for some of you, other systems will be a better option. That’s up to you to decide. So let’s dig into the top CRMs for small businesses, and see how they compare.
Close is a robust all-in-one CRM built with top-notch sales, marketing, and business leadership expertise behind it. We continue to rank very high on software review websites, scoring 10/10 in “Likelihood to Recommend” by numerous small business owners. Unlike others on the list, Close focuses squarely on the SMB market—less than 100 users.
When choosing Close as your solution, we offer free training and implementation and our system is easy to use enough that you won’t need a dedicated developer or administrator on your team to set things up and get things going. That’s a huge consideration for a small business owner!
Close is also the only CRM all-in-one system on this list to fully integrate global VoIP and SMS as a standard module within its key features.
- Top-ranked fastest adoption time of any CRM on the market, so you can get up and running quickly
- Free trial, migration, and support
- Top-rated customer support and training
- Automated logging of customer interactions, sales activities, and real-time reporting
- Tons of features for implementation today or whenever you’re ready
- Works best with a pre-existing working knowledge of sales principles (though Close’s comprehensive blog and learning resources provide great on-demand education)
- Close pricing can seem higher than competitors until you consider the included features and support that most other CRMs only offer as add-ons
2. Zoho CRM
Zoho CRM is tailored for enterprise (100+ users) businesses. The CRM is just one application amongst a much more complex family of apps that allows for additional power and features. Zoho is ideal for organizations that can designate a dedicated CRM administrator with an IT background for purchasing and managing VoIP systems, workflow programming, and third-party services integration.
- Relatively inexpensive per-user fees
- Includes an extensive array of business tools, not just CRM, with the Zoho Suite
- Works well if you already have many third-party integrations and are NOT looking to centralize your system into a more streamlined CRM
- Companies must invest in dedicated employees for administration, programming, and IT support
- Poor or no tutorial videos, training, or customer service
- Requires subscription and integration of third-party apps
- Slow customer support
3. HubSpot CRM
HubSpot is widely recognized as a leading CRM and is the backbone of thousands of sales team efforts worldwide. It’s fairly easy to use, keeps all contacts within a centralized and customizable database, and offers prebuilt integrations for most related software you may use as part of your funnel and tracking.
That said, HubSpot’s main focus is marketing. If you’re working heavily on inbound marketing and want a simple CRM that complements those efforts, this may be the right option. But if you’re doing heavy outbound sales, HubSpot may be more difficult to set up and get started.
- Decent feature set in the basic free version
- Good self-guided training and knowledge base
- Easy to understand “point-and-click” reporting with no programming needed, unlike tools like Salesforce
- Workflows can be confusing and hard to understand
- Marketing add-on is costly as the software is geared for large enterprise teams
- At an enterprise level, the marketing features excel, but the CRM features remain basic
Did you know… If you want to combine the most powerful sales and marketing tools, try HubSpot + Close together. Our native integration with HubSpot’s marketing tools allows for two-way sync, meaning your lead information and touchpoints are all safely stored where you need them.
Pipedrive is a simple CRM that helps individuals and very small teams optimize their sales pipeline management. As its name suggests, its primary focus is on optimizing and automating the sales pipeline and relies heavily on third-party integrations for other functions.
- Low initial cost
- Free training and implementation
- Optimized for solopreneurs with few clients or small sales teams with low lead volume
- Third-party subscriptions and apps needed for calling and email automation
- Ideal for very small teams who don’t anticipate future growth (less than 5)
- Growth is limited by basic functionality
Salesforce is one of the best-known CRM systems on the market. It can do practically everything that any other CRM can do, but the system is so huge that workflows may appear to be unnecessarily complicated. Salesforce is built on APIs, which allow its base sales lead, opportunity, and contact management system to integrate with thousands of external programs and features.
- Thousands of add-ons that, for an additional fee, can be integrated with your customer relationship data
- Large user base and support network
- Very expensive licensing and staffing (You’ll need to hire a Salesforce administrator.)
- Top, scalable CRM for large enterprise organizations with more than 250 users... so not ideal for small businesses
- Complex pricing with hidden costs
- Add-on purchases required for calling, email automation, training and implementation, and customer support
- A very steep learning curve, requiring more than a month of dedicated training before your new sales reps start using the software
Salesloft offers a series of CRM solutions as purchased in solution bundles for lead generation, sales process management, and account management and, like Salesforce, is optimized for large, enterprise-level organizations with large sales operations budgets.
- Good for enterprise-level organizations looking to invest heavily in CRM
- Optimized for sales teams of more than 100 reps
- Very expensive
- No integrated e-mail automation (requires 3rd party)
- Difficult implementation and users rate its ease of use as difficult
- Requires a developer to integrate properly and a dedicated CRM administrator
Part of the Freshworks family, this CRM features built-in email, phone, chat, and telephony systems and is a good solution for organizations looking to enhance their marketing automation. This CRM’s strong points are geared toward startups and small businesses, deal management, forecasting, and reporting tools. However, reviewers suggest that lead tracking and early funnel functionality could be improved.
- All but the essential functions require paid add-ons
- Easy-to-understand user interface
- Good built-in reporting
- Some reviewers report operational lag time, creating delays in pipeline management
- Predefined sales process phases aren’t customizable
- Long delays with customer support, especially when navigating overcomplicated processes
If you’ve submitted online help desk tickets to companies like Uber, Staples, or MailChimp, you’ve likely used Zendesk’s customer service system, with its robust case/ticket handling and knowledge base. In 2008, Zendesk acquired FutureSimple Inc., the company behind Base CRM. Since then, Base has been rebranded “Zendesk Sell” and offers a basic CRM system. So, Zendesk is used by some major companies, but its CRM capabilities are limited.
- Good starter CRM for those needing essential CRM functions, possibly a suitable solution for a one-person sales team
- Suitable for businesses that sell “product” type items but not items with lots of nuances
- Long startup period—Zendesk itself boasts that only 70% of users can “get it up and running” in 7 days
- “Zendesk” includes both their help desk systems and CRM solution on one site, which is confusing
- To begin, high entry pricing at $49 per user per month, with a likely rapid need to push into the $99 plan after a short time
9. Less Annoying CRM
LACRM is designed for very small businesses and includes a task management system, lead tracker, and task automation system. It integrates with third-party email systems and is good for managing customer information and contact history.
- Good starter CRM for those needing essential CRM functions, possibly a suitable solution for a one-person sales team
- No app integrations, which means you’ll encounter significant limitations and lots of manual input (not saving valuable admin time)
- Offers only one tier at $15 per user/per month which means what you see is what you get
- Risk-free, 30-day free plan
10. Open Source CRMs
Small business owners may be tempted by the “no fees” model of using open-source CRM systems that are generally “100% free CRMs” that run on your own web hosting and server. However, we think that’s a decision best approached with caution. You’ll need a very tech-savvy person to set up the system for you, and maintain the installation with new roll-outs, and security patches.
- It’s free
- Most have integrated email marketing, customer information, drag-and-drop data management, and e-mail logging
- Some have third-party integrations for SMS
- Open source framework means new plugins and applications are being developed all the time, and there is a large developer/peer support community
- Typically, No integrated calling
- Is not typically backed by funders or investors, so feature and security updates could go away without notice
- Programming knowledge required
- No dedicated tech support (except some third-party consultants)
- You’re hosting it, so you’re responsible for compliance with all security laws and could be liable in the event of a breach
How to Choose the Best Small Business CRM Software
You’ll want to prepare the CRM features that are most important to your specific company. For some that may be marketing automation, pipeline management, operational management tools, etc. Others may need it all, so looking at the all-in-one model is best.
When making your list, be sure to take the following steps.
1. Define Goals and Objectives
Look at your organization’s strategic plan for sales goals and objectives. I’m sure you’ll find ones that are focused on growth, customer satisfaction, and service quality improvements. Identify the ways a CRM system can help achieve both your short-term and long-term goals.
2. Understand Team’s Needs
Asking your team for their input is an important step in getting their buy-in for a new SMB CRM. What do they wish the system could do? What things do they spend ‘offline’ time — that is, time not selling — that could be automated? What do they want to ensure is not automated because they feel it requires a human touch?
Bonus tip: Have your sales management team members watch our 10-minute Close CRM demo video to see some of the possibilities and get them brainstorming that way.
3. Evaluate Actual Sales Cases
Work with your best sales rep to follow a top client along their sales journey from lead to closed-won. What are the key touchpoints specific to their journey for the purchase, and how could a CRM help streamline those processes? Write down the features a CRM would need to do this. Then look at a handful of lost sales. What could have been done by a CRM to keep them engaged? If it wasn’t a good fit, what CRM tools could be used to screen the lead better earlier in the process? Add the features needed to your list.
4. Determine the Non-Negotiable Features
Formulate your list of non-negotiable CRM features from the following list and your research:
- Lead and contact information management: You don’t want important information to get lost in the cracks, so make sure automatic lead import is an option.
- Historical view of interactions: To manage relationships, you need to see previous interactions. Integration with your current email provider like Gmail or email client like Outlook is important.
- Pipeline management: Your CRM must have a pipeline view for you to see how deals progress through the funnel, where your team needs help, and which deals need that extra push to close. It also should have the capability to follow a lead from when they fill out a web form or call to when they become a customer or start referring other clients to you.
- Calling features: Nearly every sales team on earth is calling their prospects, leads, and customers. If your chosen CRM doesn’t have integrated calling features (such as built-in VoIP, a Power Dialer, a Predictive Dialer, or automatic recording and voicemail drop), then it should at the very least integrate smoothly with a tool that does.
- Email and automation: A good CRM allows you to send emails and logs those emails automatically. But a great CRM will also allow you to set up automated email sequences and build email templates for your team to use and personalize on the fly.
- Lead segmentation: A good CRM doesn’t just give you a giant list of leads. It allows you to segment and separates those leads depending on the factors you choose.
- Simple search: Any good customer relationship management tool should have a search bar that allows you to look up key information, leads, or companies in your pipeline.
- Tasks and notifications: To keep your team on track, the platform should include task functionality and notifications of upcoming tasks or scheduled meetings.
- Sales reporting: Essential sales metrics should be tracked inside your CRM, and reporting should be easy to access and export.
- Rep activity reporting: Since your CRM is the hub where your team is most active, activity reports should be easily accessible. This will tell you how long your reps spend on the phone, the number of emails they send, and other important activity metrics.
- Sales forecasting features: Deal confidence, projected deal value, and sales cycle tracking should all be part of your CRM. Forecasting features help you stay on track with your goals and give you an early warning when you’re falling behind.
6. Create a Budget
How much you budget for CRM is going to depend on the number of salespeople you have, the features you need, and your team’s CRM savviness. For complicated solutions with lots of integrations, you may need to factor in staffing on top of licensing. Building a CRM budget is also based on its ROI. For example, paying a higher rate for a CRM that better suits your business needs with integrated email marketing campaigns may save you from needing to pay for a Mailchimp account.
7. Research CRM Platforms
This may seem odd for us to say (and we do think you should research Close and try our 14-day free trial) but you should also identify two other CRMs that might be a good fit do your research. Comparison sites like G2 allow you to run side-by-side CRM feature comparisons and read reviews from business owners just like you.
Now that we’ve covered what you need to know and do before choosing a CRM for your small business, we’ll tell you why Close is easily the best choice of all of your options above.
First, all Close plans include built-in calling, email, & SMS functionality. Amazingly, these essential communication tools aren’t always included in other platforms, and that just blows our minds. We also have a robust set of additional built-in tools, and our platform integrates with Zapier if you’re already using third-party tools you love.
Next, we offer starter plans for startups and three tiers up to the enterprise plan level. That makes it easy for you to test us out and steadily grow into the various features we offer.
As the most comprehensive out-of-the-box CRM solution out there, we think you’ll find that Close will be your ideal, trusted small business CRM partner. Take a look at our demo video or sign up for the free 14-day trial so you can test our platform out yourself.