Managing relationships might be the most important part of running a business. A lot can happen between the time someone first hears about your company and when they eventually become a customer. Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps make this crucial process possible.
Without CRM software, there are too many shifting pieces to remember without something or someone falling through the cracks. But because CRMs can perform so many different functions, finding the right one can feel overwhelming. We researched and tested nearly 30 CRM platforms before arriving at the ten best for the majority of businesses. Click on any app to learn more about why we chose it, or keep reading for more context on CRMs.
- Bitrix24 for multi-channel communication
- Salesforce Sales Cloud for customizability
- Zoho CRM for making sales fun
- Freshsales for being easy to use
- Nimble for customer prospecting
- Insightly for project management
- Nutshell for managing a sales team
- Apptivo for business management
- Agile CRM for marketing
- Streak for Gmail power users
Every business has different criteria when it comes to CRMs. We kept this in mind as we tested software and considered features that would be helpful to most businesses, including:
- Ease of use. The best CRM tool is the one you and your team are actually going to use. We considered whether teams would enjoy—or at least wouldn’t mind—using a piece of software. Was it visually appealing and easy to navigate? Or did it look like something designed circa 1998?
- Customization. Every business works a little differently. We looked at whether the CRM had customization options for sales and projects to make the software work for different teams.
- Reporting. A good CRM tool allows for robust reporting across a variety of data.
- Automation and integrations. Can the CRM automate tasks for you? Can it integrate with your other apps such as email, calling, accounting, SMS, eCommerce, and marketing platforms? We looked at CRMs that have integration and automation features built-in or that can integrate with Zapier.
Bitrix24 (Web, iOS, Android)
Bitrix24 takes communication—whether it’s with customers or teammates—and pumps it up to 11. Chat, video, email, telephony, SMS, social, and intranet are all housed under one roof. All functions are also integrated with the CRM, help desk, marketing automation, and project management tools, and website builder.
The easiest way to connect communication channels is to click the Contact Center on the main menu. This displays your options and allows you to set up each one. Telephony requires a third-party integration or the rental of a number through Bitrix, but other channels are more straightforward. For example, to connect your email, just click the Mail icon, select your email, and fill in the required boxes.
Live chat can be installed by inserting a line of code into your content management system (CMS). The chat widget can then be customized to appear on all or some pages at the times you specify. You can also set a delay on the chat widget—maybe you want it to pop up with a customized welcome message after a visitor has been on a page for two minutes or just a few seconds. Customized chat widget forms can also collect feedback, lead info, or service requests that are then automatically saved to the CRM.
Once your channels are connected, they can be accessed directly from contact, lead, and deal records. Just click an option, add a recipient, and start a conversation. Everything is then recorded in the contact’s timeline.
For internal communication, the Activity Stream is the central hub. It’s a messaging system similar to Slack, which allows you to chat with individual teammates, departments, or your entire company. From here, you can set tasks for teammates; associate tasks with a particular contact, deal, or project; and even add dependent tasks. You can also record and send videos, create employee polls for fun or feedback, and generate workflows for various requests.
Free plan: Yes, for up to 12 users
Paid plan: From $55.60/month for six users
Salesforce Sales Cloud (Web, iOS, Android)
Salesforce Sales Cloud has become the standard in CRMs. And although the company now offers over a dozen different products, its many-featured and highly customizable sales CRM remains the backbone of its offerings.
While there is an entry-level Essentials plan, its minimal features make it more of a gateway product to get users hooked on the Salesforce ecosystem as they grow. The more impressive capabilities start with professionals and go up from there. Along with an array of customization options, some of the standout features include its workflow builder, automated activity capture, and collaborative forecasting.
To help automate business processes, Flow Builder is a visual drag-and-drop tool that lets you create workflows to ensure compliance or to just put repetitive actions on auto-pilot. For example, you could create a flow that sends all leads from trade shows an automated email with a rep’s contact info and links to company resources. Alternatively, you could create the same workflow with a button in the contact record that lets the rep start the flow.
With Salesforce’s artificial intelligence, Einstein, you can sync your email and calendar to automate data entry. For example, if you’ve created a meeting in Google Calendar, this event will be associated with the related CRM record and show up in the Activities field. Similarly, emails sent from Gmail will be automatically linked to their records.
Salesforce Sales Cloud Price:
Free plan: No
Paid plan: From $75/month/user
Automate Salesforce Sales Cloud with Salesforce’s Zapier Integrations.
Zoho CRM (Web, iOS, Android)
Zoho CRM puts tools in the hands of sales reps that make selling both smart and fun. With the help of features like real-time visitor alerts, lead prediction, and gamification, a sales team will spend more time having conversations with qualified leads than wasting time chasing the wrong ones.
SalesSignals is the backbone for understanding how and when contacts, leads, and customers interact with your company. It provides real-time notifications for email opens, website visits, campaign activity, social mentions, and other actions. For example, if you’re running an email campaign with your contacts, you’ll be notified when that person opens or clicks a link in the email.
Zia is the built-in AI that collects and analyzes data entered in the CRM each day. One of its core features is lead and deal prediction. This uses past record data to analyze the likeliness that a lead will convert to a deal, and a deal will convert to a sale. Because it’s based on data, you need to create and close a minimum of 1,000 deals in the last 15 months for it to work, among other criteria. Once the requirements are met, Zia will assign a prediction from 0-100, showing you which deals need attention, and which you’re more likely to win or lose. Ultimately, it helps you prioritize your team’s efforts and sell a little smarter.
Game scope sounds like a cross between a fantasy league and a video game, but it’s not (though we wish it were). With it, you can create time-based challenges between team members such as most leads converted, tasks completed, and deals won. Everyone who reaches the target gets a Badge.
Zoho CRM Price:
Free plan: Yes, for 3 users
Paid plan: From $12/month/user
Automate Zoho CRM with Zoho CRM’s Zapier Integrations.
Freshsales (Web, iOS, Android)
Freshsales is easy to use out of the gate even if you’ve never operated anything more complicated than email. You’ll also find in-app video tutorials, articles, and a support person just a few clicks away.
The design keeps all functions clean with navigation icons, that, if not initially recognizable (e.g., a $ sign stands for deals), can be hovered over for a description. Buttons to send an email, create leads, add a task, chat with a teammate, and get help from a Freshsales rep also show on every screen. These are designed for quick access to often-used features and support.
Features that require setup are also made nearly foolproof. For example, the first time you enter Workflows in Settings, you’re shown a popup with example Workflows—automation for tasks, leads, deals, and appointments. The main screen then provides a video and articles for common questions such as “how to configure a workflow”. It seems basic, but it’s surprising how many CRMs make your search for this info.
If you get stuck anywhere, email, phone, and chat support are included with all paid plans. And for non-product related education, there’s an extensive webinar catalog with business growth topics presented by industry experts, such as Trish Bertuzzi, Aaron Ross, and Rand Fishkin.
Free plan: Yes, for unlimited users
Paid plan: From $12/month/user
Automate Freshsales with Freshsales’ Zapier Integrations.
Nimble (Web, iOS, Android)
When prospecting, a large part of a sales rep’s time is spent first finding accurate contact info and then connecting with those contacts effectively. Nimble helps simplify this process.
You’ll get the most value out of Nimble if you first connect your email and social accounts. Once you do, you’ll be able to manage these accounts from the Messages screen, making it easier to follow your feeds and interact directly with contacts. A new Twitter follower popped into Messages while I was writing this, so I clicked on it, checked out the contact record that was auto-created, and followed him back with a click. His contact record, just like all records, automatically populated with business info, social profiles, and activities (Signals) with a summary of experience and areas of influence.
The Signals tab consolidates your Facebook and Twitter streams in real-time. You’ll be able to see full profiles and all the interactions for your connections. You can also interact with your connections the same way you would if you were in that social app.
Click on a profile, and you’ll also be able to search for additional info (e.g., email) using the Prospector button. This feature’s purpose is to find email addresses, whether it’s for an existing contact or for someone you’re interested in.
To make your prospecting more targeted, you can segment contacts using filters for title, company, location, influence groups, and more. To create a segment, go to Contacts, click Add Segment, name your segment, and use the different filters. I created a segment showing all my Twitter followers who themselves have over 1,000 followers each. Then I narrowed it down to those in the Denver area. As long as I have emails for these contacts, I can then send them a group email. If not, I could try using Prospector to find their email.
Free plan: No
Paid Plan: From $19/month/user with 25 Prospector credits/month ($10 per additional 100 credits)
Automate Nimble with Nimble’s Zapier Integrations.
Insightly (Web, iOS, Android)
Insightly pairs an easy-to-use CRM with project management functions that should appeal to any size team. The automation and customization options ensure that things like special setup needs, repetitive tasks, and business processes will make managing sales and projects more streamlined.
At the administrative level, Insightly provides permissions, so employees are only allowed to see and change records that relate to their job function. This keeps mistakes down while not burdening employees with irrelevant information. For example, you’d likely want to provide your sales reps with read-only permissions for Projects so they can follow a customer’s progress but not change the ongoing project record.
To help manage projects efficiently and with consistency, you can create workflows to help automate specific actions. For example, I created a workflow for a sales rep that would send an automated email to the onboarding team, letting them know a new customer had closed. This was followed one hour later by a task created for the sales rep to prepare an onboarding brief to discuss the deliverables. You could continue adding time triggers and actions until the handoff from sales to the delivery team was complete.
This functionality is also useful for businesses outside a traditional sales funnel. When I worked for a publishing company, we managed the content pipeline using Projects. This included creating each new project (which, in our case, was an article), adding notes and tasks, and collaborating with other departments. After I finished writing an article, I would change its status to complete, which would then trigger an automated email to the SEO team, who then reviewed it. This happened for each stage of the process with the various departments fulfilling their jobs until the article was finally published.
Free plan: Yes, for 2 users
Paid plan: From $29/user/month
Automate Insightly with Insightly’s Zapier Integrations.
Nutshell (Web, iOS, Android)
Nutshell’s array of customizations, automation capability, and reporting options make it an efficient tool for managers who need to herd, monitor, and report on a sales team. As a bonus, it’s also relatively affordable and easy to use.
To start, you can create teams of users who have different levels of access to data. For example, if you have inside and outside teams, you may want to limit access for each team to only their own data. Another organizational tool is Territories, which lets you define a specific geographic region for use in assigning leads. These regions can be defined by country, state, city, postal code, and area code. A Rocky Mountain Region might contain leads from Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Mexico.
Pipelines allow customizable settings for Stage Probability, Description, and criteria for assigning leads as overdue and/or closed after remaining in a stage for a certain number of days. This can help keep leads from going stale from inactivity by sales reps.
For each pipeline, there are options for adding lead assignment rules, goals, and tasks. So if sales rep Hank is responsible for all partner sales for the Rocky Mountain region, you would create two rules based on Territories and Company type. Then all leads (e.g., from a trade show) that matched these two criteria would automatically drop into that pipeline and be assigned to Hank.
If you need a little inspiration, Nutshell links to a guide providing 16 detailed pipeline templates for different sales situations. For example, there’s a process for making outbound cold calls with stages identified and the goals for each one.
Once you start creating and closing deals, Reports lets you create a nearly infinite number of options to capture the organizational data you’ve collected. For example, you can see how many calls the Rocky Mountain Region made last month, a summary of individuals and their call volume, and how they’re performing against their quota. You’ll also see average activities per day, and the number of sales won and lost by calls. Want to know the average time it takes to close a lead or how many total activities your territories are completing? Go to Snapshots. How about which competitor you are losing most often to? Go to Losses and segment by Competitor.
Free plan: No
Paid plan: From $19/month/user
Automate Nutshell with Nutshell’s Zapier Integrations.
Apptivo (Web, iOS, Android)
Apptivo is a jack-of-all-trades and, while it may not be a master at anyone, provides a very capable platform for managing contacts and sales. But where the platform shines is with its financial and supply chain apps, which offer the most robust functionality.
To enable all of your plan’s apps, click the App Store icon at the top right. Apps also include sub-apps, which can be enabled to add more functionality. For example, within the Financials app, you’ll find Customer Payments, where you can integrate payment options—such as PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net—to accept on your website.
Other functions in Financials include expense reports, invoices, estimates, and a ledger. The Ledger app is accounting software to record and track assets, liabilities, revenue, and expenses.
For companies that need to manage a physical inventory, the Supply Chain app centralizes the procurement, purchase order, and shipping process. For example, if you’re a furniture retailer, you can set up suppliers with payment terms, create a PO to order a shipment, receive that order, pay for it, generate an inventory number, and manage the inventoried items as they’re sold.
Free plan: Yes, for 3 users
Paid plan: From $8/month/user
Agile CRM (web, iOS, Android)
If Agile CRM were just a marketing platform, it would be well worth the price of admission for its campaign automation features alone. Combine it with the features of a CRM, and you have a powerful tool that helps keep sales and marketing aligned.
While the marketing and sales apps within the CRM platform are managed with their own set of tools, they share information at the contact level. For example, if your marketing team collects business cards at a tradeshow and creates contacts in Marketing, Sales will have access.
Triggers are conditions you create to kick off specific actions in a campaign. If a lead visits your case studies page, you can send an email asking if they want to learn more about how your company helped these customers. The lead visiting that page is the trigger. Each time you create a Trigger, you then add it to a specific campaign. There is a library of Triggers for contacts, deals, events, calls, forms, SMS, and more.
Create Campaigns by dragging and dropping the actions (called Nodes) you want based on the conditions you set with the Trigger. In the case of a lead visiting a case study page, your Node might add a task for that lead’s owner to email the lead or even send them a text asking if they’d like to be connected to a sales rep.
To engage website visitors, you can use Web Rules to create pop-ups, surveys, and forms that appear only after certain conditions are met. For example, if an eCommerce customer’s shopping cart is less than $25, you could send a popup that offers 20 percent off their entire order if they spend another $25. Create multiple conditions for each Web Rule using page conditions (like page URL), contact data (like job title), geography, and shopping cart conditions.
Finally, Page Builder lets you create landing pages, emails, pop-ups, and forms using their prebuilt templates or customizing your own. I created an email for a retail sale with a copy, an image, and social sharing buttons in about five minutes. Then I added it to one of my Campaigns by selecting it from among the premade templates and the ones I created. It was all straightforward and easy to accomplish.
Agile CRM Price:
Free plan: Yes, for 10 users
Paid plan: From $9.99/month/user
Automate Agile CRM with Agile CRM’s Zapier Integrations.
Streak (Gmail, iOS, Android)
If you’re a Gmail power user, Streak might be just what you’re looking for to manage contacts and sales. It’s an extension that lives inside your inbox, which means no separate login to manage and no switching back and forth between email and CRM.
Downloading the Streak extension takes about 15 seconds, and the result is a CRM that’s ready to use. At the top right of your Gmail inbox, you’ll see Streak with a dropdown menu. Here you’ll find settings, help, integrations, and more.
To open the Streak sidebar, click the orange icon just to the right of the + icon. From the sidebar, you can add contacts or perform actions for existing contacts, such as adding notes, tasks, files, or adding to a pipeline. The contact sidebar also shows recent emails, contact details, notes, and a summary of each.
You can find your pipelines in your list of Gmail folders. From here, pipelines can be created for sales, projects, support, and other business functions where tracking progress is required. Click the + icon to access pipeline templates or create your own. Pipeline stages can be color-coded, and stage fields can be customized. A field is the information you’re tracking for each item in your pipeline, and includes things like Lead Source, Industry, Deal Size, and Assigned To.
And in case you’re wondering, Streak does have reporting capabilities, also accessed and created from your inbox. There’s virtually no customization within reporting, but there is an email link for requesting a custom report from Streak. Reports can be added and drag-and-dropped around the dashboard.
Free plan: Yes, for two users
Paid plan: From $49/month for one user
Automate Streak with Streak’s Zapier Integrations.