The Best CRM Software

We’re going to be honest: Reading this review is only going to be one step in your journey to find the best CRM software. There are hundreds to choose from, and it comes down to evaluating which has the right functionality to give your business the insights it needs to succeed. We test-drove seven of the most popular platforms to see for ourselves which are the most robust, easy to use, and highly rated. Then we looked to CRM superusers and consultants to tell us how to start gauging which one is the best for certain businesses. Our top picks cater to three different business sizes, and they’re excellent starting points as you begin your search.

The 3 Best CRM Software Programs

  • Salesforce -

    The Best CRM for Enterprises

  • SugarCRM -

    The Best CRM for Mid-Sized Businesses

  • Zoho -

    The Best CRM for Small Businesses

The Best
CRM for Enterprises
Salesforce
Salesforce
The most popular CRM in the market — and the most robust and customizable.
Pros
Extensive integrations
Efficient for sales users
Reliable
Cons
Steep learning curve

Why we chose it

Extensive integrations

If you can dream up a feature, there’s likely a way to do it within Salesforce itself or or via one of its integrated apps. Do you want to use it to streamline your hiring process? Track your MailChimp campaigns? Gamify your employees into increased productivity? There are apps (both paid and free) for all of these functions and many, many more.

Salesforce’s AppExchange third-party app marketplace is one of the largest available, giving businesses access to over 4,000 applications and integrations. These are broken down into categories, like Sales and IT, and industry, like Education and Real Estate. It’s by far the most customizable CRM we investigated. And because Salesforce is in the cloud (more on that in our FAQ), you can add applications without going through costly infrastructure.

Efficient for sales users

For sales users in particular, Salesforce surpasses the competition by allowing users to interact more with the customer than the computer. Steve Chipman, a partner at CRM Switch, agrees: “I’d say that sales users generally warm up more to Salesforce than [Microsoft] Dynamics.” It takes more clicks to get things done in Microsoft Dynamics than Salesforce, and this means less time with customers and tending to your business and more time working (manually) through the kinks in the software. While Salesforce’s interface is occasionally complicated, Dynamics’ is even more so.

Reliable

Don’t take our word for it, though; Salesforce is steadily growing in popularity thanks to the depths of its functionality. In fact, CRM Magazine gave Salesforce the top spot for the second year in a row for its 2017 CRM Market Leaders: Enterprise CRM Suite category. This rating system is designed by analysts to evaluate customer satisfaction, depth of functionality, company direction, and cost, making it a solid choice for enterprises.

Points to consider

Steep learning curve

Mastering a CRM suite as robust and flexible as Salesforce is not easy. One superuser we chatted with agreed: Salesforce is a “migration of steps,” requiring you to ease in employees slowly. And the leadership needs to be fully invested in migrating to the CRM, because it will likely take at least a couple of years. At our expert’s company, it took five.

If you’re opting for a top-of-the-line enterprise CRM, expect to dedicate some staff to it. Training an employee to do nothing but manage Salesforce for the company was essential for our superuser — despite the extensive help and training available on the website, someone without a background in information technology would struggle to set up and maintain a CRM with so many capabilities and integrations.

It felt a little like Google Analytics to one of our testers: She could tell it was an amazing tool, and she could figure out a few things on her own, but there was no way she could tap into its full functionality. Our superuser said that, after hiring consultants and an administrator, Salesforce was customized for the company so that each employee only saw the functionality they used in the system. Very cool — but definitely not what a small business or solopreneur might be interested in or likely capable of operating.

Salesforce CRM

The Best
CRM for Mid-Sized Businesses
SugarCRM
SugarCRM
An intuitive program that straddles the line between small-business CRM and enterprise.
Pros
Variety of functions
Intuitive navigation
Flexible business needs
Cons
Too robust for extremely small businesses
Fewer integrations than competitors

Why we chose it

Variety of functions

SugarCRM offers a vast array of functions and bridges the gap between small business and enterprise CRMs. It’s shy of Salesforce’s 4,000+ integrations, offering a more modest 270, but that is more than enough if you’re running a mid-sized business. And those 270 are diverse enough to customize your experience and take steps to grow your business: They enable you to monitor customer interactions, gauge data, and draw insights.

Intuitive navigation

Sugar felt more accessible than our enterprise-suite experience, with intuitive drag-and-drop modules to customize the dashboard and navigation. We were also impressed by its simple navigation bar across the top of the home screen; users are always one click away from accounts, contracts, opportunities, and leads. It didn’t take us long to learn how to get around. While having a consultant or systems admin set up a software like Sugar would make the process more seamless, its learning curve is much gentler than that of Salesforce. It also offers simple on-site deployment, so you can easily make the transition from any previous software.

Sugar dashboard CRM

Flexible business needs

SugarCRM was designed with small businesses in mind, but it can also expand into a full-fledged enterprise suite. CRM Magazine named it one of the top contenders for the 2017 CRM Market Awards for small business CRM suites, but it was also named one of the 2016 enterprise leaders. In the same year, SugarCRM became the CRM choice for Virgin Mobile USA. Because it’s made its name in both small business and enterprise arenas, it’s a reputable option for many different business needs.

Points to consider

Too robust for extremely small businesses

Although 270+ applications may not seem like a lot in comparison to Salesforce’s 4,000, there’s still a good chance this is more than you need, especially if you’re running a very small business. Analysts from CRM Magazine agree: In the small-business suite report, Kate Leggett, vice president and a principal analyst at Forrester, commented that a full-featured CRM like Salesforce, Dynamics, and even Sugar “may offer a depth of capabilities that is more than what a small business requires.”

That said, keep in mind that a ceiling on your CRM’s capabilities could be limiting if your small business becomes not-so-small — which could be the case with a true small-business CRM like Zoho.

Fewer integrations than competitors

On the flip side, if you do have an extremely large business, SugarCRM’s lack of integrations may hinder you. Its 270 integrations is suited for true mid-range businesses, but it can’t compete with Salesforce’s 4,000 for a business that has more extensive needs.

The Best
CRM for Small Businesses
Zoho
Zoho
Free CRM functions for up to 10 users, plus a simple interface for the needs of a small business.
Pros
Easy to use
Cost-effective
Cons
Inconsistent user experience

Why we chose it

Easy to use

Zoho stood out in our testing as an excellent option for solopreneurs and very small businesses — those who want to dip their toes into CRM with a free or low-priced subscription but still grow over time. This is thanks in no small part to the intuitive nature of the site.

Zoho kicks off with a Getting Started landing page that links to tasks essential for setup: migration, inviting colleagues, personalizing the CRM, and workflow automation. You can access that page anytime through the navigation, and it’s a nice home base as you get more and more comfortable.

Zoho even consolidates its operating system to give you an all-in-one option, known as Zoho One. You can run your entire business in one place with around 40 integrated applications. If you don’t like the all-in-one option and want to pick and choose, Zoho gives you that choice, too.

ZOHO Getting Started CRM

Cost-effective

Zoho is undoubtedly one of the most affordable CRM software platforms out there. It topped the charts on CRM Magazine’s 2017 Market Leaders for small business CRM suites. Brent Leary, co-founder and partner at CRM Essentials, stated in the report that Zoho “has a breadth of products and offerings with a good depth of functionality at such low price points that it delivers great value, even to the smallest of SMBs.” For those looking for a free CRM, Zoho even offers an edition that lets three users have access to all of Zoho’s basics at no charge: accounts, leads, feeds, documents, mobile apps, and macros. The next tier ($12 per user per month) adds functionality like sales forecasting, roles, and call center connectors. Even though there are only around 180 integrations for Zoho CRM on the Zoho Marketplace, it has some pretty important ones, like Google Drive and Microsoft Office.

Points to consider

Inconsistent user experience

We noticed in our search that Zoho had a less-than-stellar report card among the public. Users have cited technical and customer support issues, as well as the fact that workflow automation is only available to those who purchase the Professional (or most expensive) edition. Others have said that it’s difficult to customize the platform and add applications, and that in the process you might end up paying for a lot of applications that you’ll never use.

Granted, the negative feedback could simply be the nature of the market itself. Salesforce doesn’t shine when it comes to customer reviews, either; like Zoho, a lot of the complaints deal with customer service. We take online reviews with a grain of salt, but know that choosing a site as budget-friendly as Zoho may come with a few headaches.

Guide to CRM Software

How to find the right CRM software for you

Identify your business needs

Marie Hale, co-founder and marketing visionary of @revenue, told us that the best way to find a CRM software that works for you is to identify the insights your business needs. “Do you need to track how long it takes a digital suspect to become a qualified prospect? Do you need to hyper-focus on the usage of your website by current clients?” We suggest speaking with customer service representatives to make sure that the service aligns with your current needs — while offering room to grow, if that’s in your future.

Look at the features

When it comes to finding the right CRM tools, efficiency and connectivity are key. “It’s really hard to have a CRM tool that exists in its own environment,” explains Valerie Youman, a CRM marketing consultant. “You end up copying data from tool to tool, which is inefficient and complicated. What makes a good CRM is when it’s all integrated and it’s connected to the other tools that make a business a success. That integration is really critical.” Double-check the apps you currently use against those offered by your potential software before buying.

Consider the price

It’s especially important to look at the fine print and investigate any hidden costs. You definitely don’t want to overpay for integrations that you never use — and if you do end up with unwanted apps, you should be able to easily switch them. Again, the simpler the product, the less you’ll pay: More functionality usually means higher initial prices and maintenance resourcing (e.g., finding the IT support to help you set it up).

CRM Software FAQs

What is the best CRM software for nonprofits?

The needs of a nonprofit organization are similar-yet-different to those of a business — a lot of the data and reporting will end up looking the same, but you’d have to hack a business-focused CRM to track and organize donation levels, fundraisers, and constituents. There are a handful of CRMs focused specifically on nonprofits, and we looked at two of the biggest names.

  • Salesforce Nonprofit looks and feels just like Salesforce — just tweaked a bit. All our first impressions still apply: It’s an incredibly robust and powerful tool that’s likely too overwhelming for a nonprofit without a dedicated person to manage it. Nonprofits do get a break on pricing, though: Eligible organizations can receive 10 free subscriptions to the Enterprise Edition, its lowest tier. Costs range from $36 per user per month to $72 per user per month for the Unlimited Edition. By comparison, Unlimited functionality for its sales-focused product is $300 per user per month.
  • NeonCRM, on the other hand, was built specifically for nonprofits: Its pricing is based on number of constituents as opposed to number of users, and its functionality natively extends to features such as solicitation methods, congressional districts, donation levels, wealth screening, membership levels, and more. We found it easy to set up and use, with on-demand training and live chat support. Subscriptions start at $50 per month, which covers up to 1,000 constituents.
Does CRM software include marketing automation tools?

In an ideal world, marketing and sales have a direct line of communication to current and future customers. Some CRMs, like GetResponse, make it easy to integrate with a dedicated email service; others have add-on marketing tools within their suite of products. The Salesforce Marketing Cloud, for instance, includes Pardot, Salesforce’s robust B2B marketing automation software.

Just like CRM, different marketing automation services have different levels of functionality and vastly different prices. If your CRM has a GetResponse integration, you can tap into its marketing automation for $165 to $1,200 per month, while a service like Pardot will add an extra $1,200 to $4,000 per month to your Salesforce bill.

What is a cloud-based CRM system?

A cloud-based or SaaS (Service-as-a System) based CRM platform makes the benefits of CRM software accessible to businesses without the hassle of installing and maintaining specific software programs. It’s accessed through the internet and can be retrieved on any device at any time.

How secure is the cloud?

It sounds efficient, but it can also cause security fears. If your information is in the cloud, make sure your CRM software company invests in top-notch security. You can do this by researching the company’s history with security and browsing its service level agreement (SLA). This is where successful integration comes into play: Your CRM software should easily mesh with your existing IT security software. However, most reputable companies pour an extensive amount of resources into their products to make sure your information is secure within a SaaS-based system.

The Best CRM Software: Summed Up

Salesforce
SugarCRM
Zoho
Best For
Enterprises
Mid-Sized Businesses
Small Businesses
Integrations
Over 4,000 pre-integrated
Over 270
180
Price (Per User, Per Month)
$25-$300*
$40-$150
$12-$100
On-Site Deployment
X
Cloud-Based (SaaS)
24-Hour Customer Support
X

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